New Mexico State University's Plant Diagnostic Clinic was recently accredited by the National Plant Diagnostic Network, becoming the fourth laboratory in the nation to receive the designation. The only other labs with this designation are at Cornell University, the University of Florida and the Nevada Department of Agriculture.
Officials at New Mexico State University (NMSU) say the accreditation was awarded as a result of "timely, accurate and reliable diagnostics," according to the NPDN STAR-D Laboratory Accreditation Program. NMSU’s five-year accreditation term began Sept. 1, 2016, and ends Aug. 31, 2021.
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 French play a significant role in the NMSU accreditation process, he has also been named a national auditor. He said the rigorous accreditation process required the development of a quality management system and several external audits before the designation could be made.
According to the accreditation standards, the NMSU clinic had to meet essential requirements and standards and the clinic’s staff was required to demonstrate technical competence in regards to testing and using reliable methods and equipment. It also means the clinic has appropriate facilities to meet the demands of accurate diagnostics.
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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 [that accreditors] acknowledged 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 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.”
Goldberg said the lab has come a long way since her involvement in the early days of the clinic's beginning. When the clinic was established in 1993, she worked out of a small office and desk with lab equipment borrowed from another lab and a microscope she salvaged after it was discarded.
After years of finding adequate funding to operate and grow the lab, the clinic has increased its diagnostic capacity considerably and is currently processing approximately 1,400 samples per year.
“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 beyond the NMSU, Las Cruces or New Mexico communities.
ADVANTAGES BEYONED THE REGION
“Being able to provide that accurate pest diagnosis, to where we at least know that the management strategies we’re employing should 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.”
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.
Services offered include analysis of plant material for plant pathogens and environmental stresses, suggestions for appropriate control measures when available, and facilitating insect and weed identification through referrals to other plant 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 a local extension office.