Fletcher, Evelyn1; Wells, Bonnie2
1Commercial Agriculture Agent, UF/IFAS St. Johns County Extension, St. Augustine, FL, 32092
2Commercial Horticulture Agent, UF/IFAS Brevard County Extension, Cocoa, FL, 32926


In 2019, the Hastings Triage Laboratory was established at the Hastings Agricultural & Extension Center with support of the Tri-County Agricultural Area (St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler Counties, FL). The farmers were eager for rapid results in times of crop stress and were unhappy with the timeframe to submit and receive a diagnosis from campus.

This laboratory is centrally located within the core of the agricultural community of St. Johns County, and within 35 miles of the furthest farms in the TCAA. The services available include soil and water pH testing, along with electrical conductivity (EC) of irrigation water samples. Immunostrips are available for testing over 20 different viral strains, and 2 oomycete species. The laboratory is set up to culture fungal pathogens on agar media plates, along with a dissecting and compound microscopes that are paired with a camera. This allowed the extension agent to send photos of spores and hyphae to extension specialists when further assistance is needed. Bacterial streaming is the main method to identify if a significant number of bacterial spores are present.

The ultimate purpose of this laboratory is to inform growers if their situation is due to a fungal or bacterial pathogen, or viral if the kits are available for the diseases of concern. We also rule out environmental or abiotic stressors with the use of APS Disease Compendiums, and with assistance from the Plant Diagnostic Clinic on campus. Since the establishment of this laboratory in February of 2019, 78 plant samples were submitted for diagnostics, and 30 soil/water samples were submitted for pH/EC results for a cost savings of $3,420 in testing fees. This laboratory has prevented the unnecessary application of pesticides, reduced water inputs, and identified fungal vs bacterial pathogens and provided recommendations using the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida to over 1,250 acres of commercial fruit and vegetable production in the TCAA. Crops ranged in value of $5,000 - $15,000 per acre. The farmers have given positive feedback to the timeliness of the diagnostics, and have requested seasonal irrigation water EC testing as we deal with local salt water intrusion.

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