The project, announced Thursday at the Macon County Extension
Office, will upgrade Extension's Distance Diagnostic System, an
Internet-based digital imaging tool known as DDDI. Without
leaving their lab, plant pathologists at the University of
Illinois in Champaign can use the system to analyze leaf samples
dropped off at any of 95 county field offices.
is essential to help protect our valuable soybean crop,"
Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. "Asian soybean rust is a
deadly, wind-borne fungus that can cause considerable financial
losses if it goes undetected. The Distance Diagnostics System
gives us the ability to quickly screen suspect plants and
provide an early warning to farmers if rust is ever diagnosed,
so they can promptly begin treating their fields."
The system, which started as a pilot project in 1999 and
expanded statewide a year later, uses cameras to snap digital
photos of plant samples under a microscope. The photos then are
posted on a secure website, where a pathologist examines them
and decides whether the samples should be delivered to the U of
I Plant Clinic for testing.
"The system has proven its ability to rapidly diagnose
biologic farm and home problems, but the original equipment is
still in use," said Dennis Bowman, project coordinator. "While
the microscopes remain functional, the cameras have become
technologically obsolete, and the low resolution of the images
they capture limits the system's potential. This project will
replace the outdated equipment with state-of-the-art cameras,
adapters, memory cards and memory card readers."
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The cost to upgrade equipment in all of the county field offices
is $93,000. Extension has contributed $36,000 to the project. The
Illinois Department of Agriculture will pay the rest with a $57,000
homeland security grant it received from the Illinois Terrorism Task
"Through research and outreach partnerships between the Illinois
Department of Agriculture, University of Illinois Extension,
Illinois Soybean Association and our industry partners, we have an
organized system in place for the detection of rust," Ken Dalenberg,
a Mansfield farmer and chair of the supply committee for the
Illinois Soybean Association. "The DDDI system plays an integral
part in our surveillance for the disease, and the ISA, through the
soybean checkoff, has agreed to pay the U of I Plant Clinic fees for
any samples that originate at the local Extension and are passed
along for further testing. The planned upgrades only will make this
an even better resource for Illinois producers."
Asian soybean rust was first discovered in the United States in
November of 2004 at a research farm in Louisiana. It has never been
confirmed in Illinois but has reached as far north as Kentucky and
Department of Agriculture news release]