As a crop producer, you have a network of “first detectors” across the nation working to give you an early alert to plant, insect and disease outbreaks.

Trained producers, ag company reps, Extension ag educators, crop consultants, state and federal inspectors and others who see crops on a regular basis make up the network.

Growers can go to the National Plant Diagnostic Network Web page, www.npdn.org, for postings of insect and disease outbreaks. Alerts are reported by each of the five regions into which the U.S. is divided. Any alert with national implications is posted nationally. For insect or disease alerts specific to the region where your farm is located, click on that region at the Web site.

You can also click on “Image Search” for photos of insects and disease symptoms connected to the alerts.

Certified first detectors complete at least three hours of training, including how to recognize high-risk insect pests and pathogens and proper methods of collecting and submitting plant samples, says Jennifer Chaky, first detector trainer and plant diagnostics educator at the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) in Lincoln. More than 3,000 first detectors have been trained nationally, according to Chaky. In Nebraska alone, 370 have been trained, she says.

First detectors report their findings and send samples to their respective land grant university diagnostic facilities or state plant diagnostic labs that are equipped to detect and identify plant insects and pathogens. Lab results are ultimately entered into the Plant Diagnostic Information System, a Web-based tracking system.

The purpose of the first detector program, says Chaky, “is to have a trained eye out there in the field, looking for something unusual. It's a more organized version of what Extension has been doing for a long time.”

The network, established by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was developed by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES).

It allows university diagnosticians and faculty, state regulatory personnel and first detectors across the country to efficiently communicate information, images and methods of detection.

In Nebraska, the plant pathology department in the University of Nebraska IANR provides first responder training. Plant pathology departments at land grant universities may be a contact in other states for training. For more information on first detector training, go to the www.npdn.org site, click on the spdn link and then go to the first detector information.

Nebraska Monitors Bugs And Diseases

The Nebraska Soybean Board is funding a local soybean field-monitoring program for insects and diseases in Nebraska.

Eighteen Extension educators, along with two observers from a couple of commercial ag companies, monitor 24 soybean fields in the Nebraska Crop Surveillance Network (NCSN).

The observers post their weekly observations directly on a Web page, www.ncsn.unl.edu, says Loren Giesler, a plant pathologist in the University of Nebraska's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

These are growers' fields, where producers follow their usual cultural practices. Most of the fields are in the eastern one-third of the state. Minimum field size is 80 acres.

Monitored fields are generally chosen so that an early planted field is near a late-planted field, to reflect differences in the way that planting date and crop growth stage might affect insect and disease development.

Environmental data are also monitored, Giesler says. Tracking environmental conditions helps show the relationship between insect vectors and disease development — and helps identify any trends in those relationships.

Information compiled from the weekly observations is an aid to crop scouting. Producers may find the site useful in keeping track of soybean insect or disease developments in or near where they farm.