Linda Foster Benedict
On Nov. 4, 2004, Ray Schneider, an LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, now deceased, was taking an Illinois farmer on a tour of the soybean research plots on a field near the LSU campus. He noticed some suspicious-looking leaves at the bottom of some of the plants that looked to him like the dreaded Asian soybean rust disease, which had wreaked havoc on the continents of Asia and Africa and had recently been detected in South America in Brazil.
Schneider had recently been part of a nationwide team of scientists trained to be on the lookout for this disease. This was a matter of national security because the disease was known to spread fast and destroy an entire field — and with it a significant part of the agricultural economy.
The disease was, in fact, found to be Asian soybean rust, and because of the fast action of an AgCenter team, a national crisis was averted.
Although from the past, this is just one example, albeit dramatic, of how AgCenter scientists and other agricultural scientists around the world work behind the scenes to keep plants healthy. To call attention to their work, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has designated 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health.
The AgCenter abounds with examples of how its scientists are on the front lines in waging battles to keep plant problems caused by diseases, insect pests, poor soil health and weeds from becoming pandemics.
One of these scientists is Raj Singh, plant pathologist, who has an article in this issue of Louisiana Agriculture on “Specialty Crop Plant Diseases on the Rise in Louisiana.” Singh is known as the “plant doctor” because he has a doctor of plant medicine degree from the University of Florida. He is the director of the AgCenter’s Plant Diagnostic Center, which serves as a place where people can get plant problems analyzed.
In this article he tells readers to help him locate and document several diseases that are spreading and causing economic loss in Louisiana. One of the more recent problems is boxwood dieback, a disease of the popular boxwood evergreen shrub, which is widely used across the state in landscapes. At this time there is no cure for the disease. Singh is holding training sessions with nursery growers and landscapers to help them identify the disease so it can be controlled and its spread stopped.
To keep plants, crops and trees healthy is far more cost-effective than dealing with full-blown plant health emergencies.
“Anything that impacts the ability of that plant to produce to its maximum yield potential is a plant health issue,” said Lawrence Datnoff, head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology.
Plant health not only helps end hunger but also protects the environment and makes agriculture sustainable. Everyone can get involved in the Year of Plant Health:
Linda Foster Benedict is the editor of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.
(This article appears in the winter 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Ray Schneider, former professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, who died on Oct. 9, 2019, was featured on the cover of the winter 2005 Louisiana Agriculture, along with an article about his momentous discovery that the dreaded Asian soybean rust disease had spread to North America, giving authorities the necessary alert to avert a disaster. Cover photo by Mark Claesgens