"Using the latest digital equipment, the staff at local offices can take high-quality images of the plant and pest problems," says Dennis Bowman, project coordinator and Crop Systems educator at the Champaign Extension Center. "The images along with information about the problem are then submitted to the appropriate experts. Last year, more than 20% of the samples were diagnosed within two hours of submission and nearly 75% within 48 hours."

Bowman notes that the service is now in its third year of statewide operations and is provided free through the local extension offices.

"In 2002, more than 700 people in every part of the state received answers to their plant and pest problems through the Distance Diagnostics System," Bowman says. "We have more than 50 extension educators, specialists, and U

of I faculty available through this system to provide their diagnosis for almost every problem."

He points out this imaging technology allows every Extension office in the

state to have almost instant access to the diagnostic skills of those experts.

"We have an unsurpassed range of available experts," Bowman says. "The group includes highly trained specialists with expertise in field crops, forage crops, turf, fruits, commercial vegetables, and home pest problems."

He adds that the system has been further upgraded this year to provide even better service to extension clients.

"The changes include improved systems reports and added printer-friendly forms that will speed up the process," Bowman says. "Other internal upgrades allow for a better search function and improved notification of undiagnosed samples. As a result, we are now responding faster than ever with answers to the many plant and pest problems that people submit to us."