1 August 1998

WIRED FOR DIAGNOSIS

New technology provides an alternative to parcelling off problem beet plants. Gilly Johnson reports.

IF YOUR sugar beet looks sickly and theres no clear explanation, then its odds on youll contact the plant clinic at IACR Brooms Barn, near Bury St Edmunds.

Samples arrive regularly in the post, into the charge of clinic manager Alan Thornhill. Its a free service to growers, funded by the industry levy on sugar beet.

Plants are often sickly when the parcel is opened, making diagnosis more difficult. "Its particularly bad when its hot – samples go off quickly," says Mr Thornhill, who sees problems ranging through compaction, waterlogging, cyst and free-living nematodes, to herbicide damage, foliar diseases such as bacterial leaf spot, and pest damage.

Now theres a digital alternative to the postman. Growers can e-mail

New technology provides an alternative to parcelling off problem beet plants. Gilly Johnson reports.

IF YOUR sugar beet looks sickly and theres no clear explanation, then its odds on youll contact the plant clinic at IACR Brooms Barn, near Bury St Edmunds.

Samples arrive regularly in the post, into the charge of clinic manager Alan Thornhill. Its a free service to growers, funded by the industry levy on sugar beet.

Plants are often sickly when the parcel is opened, making diagnosis more difficult. "Its particularly bad when its hot – samples go off quickly," says Mr Thornhill, who sees problems ranging through compaction, waterlogging, cyst and free-living nematodes, to herbicide damage, foliar diseases such as bacterial leaf spot, and pest damage.

Now theres a digital alternative to the postman. Growers can e-mail digital pictures of problem plants – for less than the cost of a stamp. This is not tomorrows technology – its up and running at IACR Brooms Barn. Simple digital cameras are now available for £200-300.

Electronic access to the plant clinic is faster and growers can also transmit pictures of the plants in situ, showing the field effects. That can help diagnosis, says Mr Thornhill.

"Were not saying that digital technology could completely replace the postal system, because sometimes plant and soil samples are needed for us to make a full diagnosis. But it would be a good starting point. We could then ask for a physical sample if needed – and that would probably be the case for about half the time."

But there are many times when a digital picture would be all that the scientists need – pigeon damage, for example.

Anyone with a digital camera should be able to access the system now. For those who have a scanner instead, a digital picture of the affected plant can also be generated by placing the plant across the screen and scanning it in – but this would not have the advantage of showing the field site as well.

Then send the pictures as file attachments to an e-mail message to IACR Brooms Barn at:

alan.thornhill@bbscr.ac.uk