Working in the Landscape: Becoming a First Detector


Logo of the First Detector program. Image:

First Detector Program

Let’s ask you as a green professional this question: Are you a First Detector? If not, that is Ok. A First Detector “[is] equipped to notice and report pests and pathogens, includes over 17,000 people across the country. Most First Detectors are in positions to notice unusual outbreaks or pest symptoms through roles as cooperative extension county educators, crop consultants, pesticide applicators, growers, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, industry representatives, NRCS conservationists, and other agricultural professionals.” Green professionals look at plants in their normal work and could observe unusual insects and diseases. The next step would be reporting unusual pest activity to The LSU AgCenter or to the LDAF.


Spotted lanternfly (SLF) Photo: Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept. of Agriculture,

Spotted lanternfly

Rainy days would be a good time for professional development by going online to the First Detector website and start online courses to learn the procedures for sampling and reporting. Other training addresses specific pests such as emerald ash borer and laurel wilt, both of which are in Louisiana. One pest such as the hemlock woolly adelgid would be unworthy of study because Louisiana has no hemlock trees. Other pests like the spotted lanternfly (SLF) are in other states and represent a threat to native hardwood trees and to fruit trees. Its impact would be economically expensive to forestland owners and to orchard owners. So far, there are no reports of SLF in Louisiana so identifying this pest would be a useful skill for the green professional if SLF arrives in Louisiana.


A "toothpick" of frass is a typical indicator of an ambrosia beetle infestation. Photo: LSU AgCenter.

Red Bay Ambrosia Beetle

A real-life example of a “first detector” was a homeowner near Rosepine. Even though he was untrained as a First Detector, he recognized that his sassafras trees were dead or dying. No other trees or plants in his landscape were affected. He called the AgCenter, and the extension agent suspected laurel wilt (LW), a fungal disease spread by the red bad ambrosia beetle (RBAB). The Agent reported to the US Forest Service and to the AgCenter’s Plant Diagnostic Lab. The examination of the site confirmed LW. LW will also infect bay trees and avocado trees. So, if a homeowner can act as a First Detector, then a landscape professional working in multiple landscapes would be in a very strategic position to be a First Detector.

If you want to contact Working in the Landscape, please send your questions and pictures to Keith Hawkins, Area Horticulture Agent (AHA), 337-463-7006 or Also, you can be on the “commercial horticulture” email list by emailing your request to the address above.

“This work has been supported, in part, by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Renewable Resources Extension Act Award, Accession Number 1011417.”

7/13/2020 6:24:46 PM
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