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Dr. Natalie Goldberg, Extension Plant Pathologist, works at her Plant Diagnostic Clinic where she focuses on the identification of plant diseases, biology and epidemiology of pathogens, plant disease management, and the diagnostic process. (Photo by Andres Leighton) SEP16

NMSU Plant Diagnostic Clinic Receives National Accreditation

The next time a plant in your yard is infested or infected, it may end up at one of just four laboratories in the nation with accreditation status.

The New Mexico State University Plant Diagnostic Clinic has been accredited by the National Plant Diagnostic Network. The only other labs with this designation are at Cornell University, the University of Florida and the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

NMSU’s five-year accreditation term began Sept. 1, 2016, and ends Aug. 31, 2021.

The rigorous process required the development of a quality management system and several external audits. The designation was granted according to the NPDN STAR-D (System for Timely, Accurate and Reliable Diagnostics) Laboratory Accreditation Program.

To receive the accreditation, the NMSU clinic met essential requirements and standards. The clinic’s personnel demonstrated technical competence in regards to testing and using reliable methods and equipment. It also means the clinic has appropriate facilities.

Part of the NMSU Extension Plant Sciences Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, the clinic provides plant diagnostic services for the entire state of New Mexico.

The following services are provided:
– Analysis of plant material for plant pathogens and environmental stresses
– Suggestions for appropriate control measures when available
– Facilitating insect and weed identification through referrals to other specialists

Clients include extension personnel, homeowners, crop consultants, growers, retailers, landscape professionals, golf courses, researchers and government agencies.

The first step in submitting a sample for diagnosis is contacting your local extension office. County extension offices may be found atextension.nmsu.edu.

Jason French is the plant diagnostic clinician and pesticide program manager in the NMSU Extension Plant Sciences Department. He said the accreditation gives NMSU recognition on a national level.

“It puts us on par with some of our peers,” French said. “The diagnosis for a sample submitted to any of the three accredited labs or to the New Mexico State lab should be the same. The quality management system put in place monitors and documents all lab processes ensuring that the final diagnosis for each sample submitted is made in a timely and reliable manner.”

Not only did he play a big role in the NMSU accreditation process, French is also a national auditor.

Natalie Goldberg, department head for NMSU Extension Plant Sciences, said it’s important to the state of New Mexico and to NMSU that French was selected to be an accreditation auditor.

“That was a significant acknowledgement that Jason had the skills, the temperament and all the other things needed to be able to do that really well,” Goldberg said. “He served as the lead auditor for Cornell, and he’ll audit other labs in the future. And by being an auditor, it really helped him to understand what needed to go into our accreditation process.

“Most people take a year to two years to get ready for the audit. We had four months. By understanding the requirements for accreditation and the accreditation process, Jason was able to prepare our lab in a short amount of time. It is hugely his accomplishment.”

Goldberg, who is also a professor and the NMSU Extension Plant Pathologist, said the accreditation gives a whole new meaning to those in the plant diagnostics industry.

“It means that an external body has determined that you are functioning in a manner that will produce a reliable result,” she said. “When you use NMSU’s plant diagnostic lab, you can be assured that your sample is getting the best opportunity to be diagnosed accurately.”

New Mexico State University Plant Diagnostic Specialist Jason French and NMSU Extension Plant Pathologist Natalie Goldberg sit at a microscope in the plant diagnostic clinic in Skeen Hall. The NMSU Plant Diagnostic Clinic was recently accredited by the National Plant Diagnostic Network. It is just the fourth laboratory in the nation to receive the designation. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia) OCT16
New Mexico State University Plant Diagnostic Specialist Jason French and NMSU Extension Plant Pathologist Natalie Goldberg sit at a microscope in the plant diagnostic clinic in Skeen Hall. The NMSU Plant Diagnostic Clinic was recently accredited by the National Plant Diagnostic Network. It is just the fourth laboratory in the nation to receive the designation. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia) OCT16

By having the required quality manual and standard operating procedures in place, any trained diagnostician should be able to come in and effectively run the lab in the absence of French and Goldberg.

The lab has come a long way since Goldberg’s first set-up in 1993. She started at a small desk in a tiny office with petri dishes “borrowed” from another lab and a microscope that was salvaged from a trash pile.

But after years of funding from various sources, the clinic has increased its diagnostic capacity and is currently processing approximately 1,400 samples per year, up from 350 samples processed in 1994.

“Accurate pest identification is the foundation to any kind of a management strategy,” Goldberg said. “If you just guess and throw treatments at it that have no ability to actually do any good for that plant because you misdiagnosed it, it’s a waste of time and money. If you add a pesticide to that equation, it’s a waste of that pesticide. And that’s poor stewardship of our environment.”

Goldberg said accurate diagnoses are relevant not only to the NMSU, Las Cruces or New Mexico communities.

“Being able to provide that accurate pest diagnosis, to where we at least know that the management strategies we’re employing should have an ability to be effective, is a tremendous advantage – not just to the people who own the plant or who are attempting to manage that plant – but also to our environment in general,” she said. “I look at it more globally than just that individual plant.”

Diagnostic services for submissions that come through an NMSU County Extension Office are free. For fees from outside submissions or for more information about the clinic, visit plantclinic.nmsu.edu

Author:  Kristie Garcia – NMSU

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