BSPP News Autumn 2000 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 37, Autumn 2000 

A week in the Life of a Plant Disease Advisor
Fiona Burnett, Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh

Skulking past the Crop Clinic door as I arrive at work, I am spotted and dragged to the phone. Moyra, who does the administration in the Crop Clinic, takes the brunt of all the phone calls of which as this time of year there are many.  Despite my protestations that I am no more than a minute and a half late she hands me the sheaf of 'enquiry' forms that she has accumulated that morning. I accept the already glowing receiver and try to sort out a flag leaf spray recommendation for a wheat crop that has had a very early stem extension spray. Once I have finished she directs my attention to the growing pile of crop clinic case cards.  I escape to my office to prepare that weeks instructions for the technician helping on one of my research project.

Moyra 'helpfully' brings all the Crops Clinic samples out of the cold store in a pointed attempt to get me to look at them. My plan for today had been to start work on a research proposal and I am starting to fret about the paper for Brighton that I should have started..... maybe later. The samples in the Clinic today include a couple from potato crops that are emerging poorly, some very poor looking spring barleys that I put down to the wet conditions at sowing and associated poor rooting  and several wheats suffering from nutrient deficiencies so I send them for further tests. I put aside some of the more interesting cases for the teaching I am doing next week. The Crop Clinic is great for getting a feel for crop problems as they appear in the area which in turn feeds into the advice that we give out to growers and into the undergraduate teaching that we do. It's also a fantastic training experience. I don't think I'll ever have seen it all but I have certainly seen more here than I would otherwise.

Fiona Burnett (right) and colleague with a selection of patients in their Crops Clinic

Drive to a Crop Meeting in Fife. I really enjoy doing these. There are nine farmers at today's meeting and we walk round the host farmer's crops with the local adviser. The host  is very open about his inputs and ideas and the other growers chat easily about theirs. I try to contribute comments and advice about the disease programmes on the wheat, barley and oilseed rape that we see. The weather is lovely, the scenery beautiful and the farmers interested and I am reminded why I do the job I do. It's not all sunshine though - there are several faces who were at the same meeting this time last year who are absent and no longer in farming. Another announces it is his last year in the industry.

Crop Report day. We send these out fortnightly with each specialist contributing on their area of expertise, either weeds pests or diseases. We rotate the compiling and editing duties and today it is my turn to compile. The deadline for contributions is the day before but my email bleeps steadily with new arrivals. I write my own piece on spring barley and paste it in while Moyra enters all the data from our monitored adopted crops. The phone rings more or less constantly but I prefer to keep answering it rather than accumulate another pile of 'must phone backs'. Simon Oxley who is editing the report that day is already enquiring how much longer I'll be. I quickly tidy up the headlines and sort the local comments before emailing it on to him. Editing is the harder job and I breath a sigh that it's not me today and head out for the field trials. Differences from the earlier sprays are starting to show up in the plots and for once we have every disease under the sun. This part of the job is rewarding where results feed straight through to the advice we can give. After assessing all the plots I head back to the office and very pointedly  file my results in the lab. We recently got PSD and GLP accreditation for our efficacy and safety field trials and since I, for my sins, have been put in charge of the QA system I have to be seen to be whiter than white.

Moyra has accumulated an even larger sheaf of enquiries in a blatant attempt to make me feel guilty for going out yesterday. I take the pile through to my room and start phoning back. In the afternoon I have a quick meeting to sort out some changes to the trial protocols. A grower comes in with some potato leaves he is concerned are blighted. It looks like scorch so he goes away relieved. Before going home I make a start on that Brighton paper - just writing the title and the materials and methods makes me feel better.

Settle down to write a research proposal that I meant to start on Monday. The phone it quieter today as the sun is shining and presumably everyone is outside doing some real work. So I make progress but by afternoon  am horribly aware that what I have drafted will cost twice what the sponsor has in mind so start going back though it trimming as I go. Moyra brings through the results from the soil and tissue analysis I requested on crop clinic samples earlier in the week so I start writing up the reports for these and phoning back some that I know the client was desperate for. Just when we think it is safe to go home the last van brings the usual deluge of samples as the local advisers clear their desks before the weekend.