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Plant Clinic: Information and Changes for 1998

May 1 marks the 23rd year of operation of the University of Illinois Plant Clinic. Many of you are very familiar with the clinic and its operation, while others are new to the system. Those who have used the clinic in the past should take note of the section at the end of this article, Changes for 1998. To save time and effort, everyone should take care when sending samples and follow the procedures outlined in the Suggestions for Specimen Collection and Submission (Adobe Acrobat format) at http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/cespubs/hyg/html/pdf/clinic_proc.pdf

The Plant Clinic is a seasonal service offered by University of Illinois Extension and is available May 1 through September 15. Although some people think of us as a disease clinic, we are much more. We handle plant and insect identification; diagnosis of disease, insect, weed, and chemical injury; and nematode assays. We also provide help with nutrient-related problems, as well as recommendations involving all diagnoses. The clearinghouse concept for plant problems has been in existence at the University of Illinois since 1976 when the clinic opened. Although this multidisciplinary venture is managed through the Crop Sciences Department, operation relies on input from both research and Extension components in many departments. Specialists are consulted on an as-needed basis. They do not have offices at the clinic.

Ornamental hosts generally comprise about 40% of the clinic samples. We also process a large number of field crops, fruits, vegetables, and turf. An average year generates approximately 2,600 samples. Demand has been high: In 1997 we handled over 3,100 samples. The clinic will attempt to help with any plant problem, but the main limitation with specialty plants is locating a campus-based expert to provide help.

Is the clinic a service you should use? That depends on what you have tried to do to get an answer to your problem. Hopefully you have tried to work through your local Extension office, agricultural consultant, chemical representative, seed dealer, or others involved in the problem. Our lab is most helpful in providing specific tests, laboratory backup, or an unbiased opinion based on plant samples and facts. If you chose to use the Plant Clinic, keep in mind the adage “garbage in, garbage out.” In that regard, try to provide a complete sample as well as photos and facts concerning symptom development over time, cultural practices, chemicals used (including rates), fertility practices, weather in your area, soil type, and any other pertinent information. Specimen data forms to guide you through this information retrieval are available at Extension offices or by calling the clinic at (217) 333-0519. A form (Adobe Acrobat format) that you are free to download and photocopy is available at http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/cespubs/hyg/html/pdf/clinic_form.pdf. A form describing how to submit samples to the clinic is available at http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/cespubs/hyg/html/pdf/clinic_proc.pdf.

The Plant Clinic is located on the South Farms of the University of Illinois. The address is 1401 West St. Mary’s Road, Urbana, IL 61802. There is a fee for samples to help cover costs. Regular samples (including cultures) are $10. Specialty tests for soybean cyst nematode and pinewood nematode, as well as some virus assays, are $15. All other nematodes cost $30 per sample. The clinic opens May 1, 1998, and we look forward to helping with your plant problems.

Changes for 1998

The first change for 1998 will be the requirement that fees accompany samples. The clinic does not have a billing office or staff specifically to handle bills and payments. Hiring employees to handle these matters would double the fees we charge. Obviously, this is not a desired course of action. Still, staff time required to follow up on unpaid bills has forced us to make changes. The logical way to handle fees with as little administrative time as possible is to require prepayment with the sample. Ours fees are low enough that this should not cause undue hardship to most clients. To make this system easier for our clients, we will not process checks until diagnosis is completed. Please make sure that this policy is made clear to your staff who might be working with clients.

Cases of herbicide injury to ornamental plants will no longer be handled by the Plant Clinic. We are not equipped to perform chemical residue testing and have in the past tried to diagnose such injuries based on symptoms and facts presented. Often the facts are few and the samples not adequate to make a judgment. Also, staff with expertise in this area are not readily available to help. The result has been slow response time and often a diagnosis in which we have not been able to provide helpful information. Chemical injury cases should be referred to the chemical representatives of the companies whose products are involved, the person from whom the chemical was obtained, or—if all else fails—the Illinois Department of Agriculture as a formal complaint.

Last year we initiated a change of which many of you may be unaware. Insects samples are no longer free, and all insect samples should be sent directly to the clinic. They will still be handled by entomology specialists and will be subject to the same $10 clinic fee as other regular diagnoses.

The final change is a minor one. The city of Urbana has been split into multiple zip codes. The new zip code for the Plant Clinic is 61802. Please change this in your records and on any forms you may have.

If you have questions about the clinic, feel free to e-mail Nancy Pataky or call (217) 333-0519.

Author: Nancy Pataky


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