Penn State launches Commercial Turf Pest Diagnostic Lab
The Penn State Department of Plant Science announced the launch of the Turf Pest Diagnostic Lab, which will provide rapid diagnosis and recommendations for commercial turfgrass managers in Pennsylvania and around the world.
Diagnosing turfgrass pest problems quickly is essential when managing high-value turfgrass areas such as golf courses, sports fields, and sod farms. Due to the unique nature and difficulty of pest identification, professional turfgrass managers often rely on services offered by commercial diagnostic labs. These labs benefit from the trained expertise of diagnosticians dedicated to identifying the causal agent(s) and offering cultural and chemical recommendations to help minimize damage and maintain healthy turf.
The core principle of the lab is to provide rapid disease, insect, and/or weed identification for the commercial turfgrass industry and assure the success of the site’s manager. The lab will be managed by Dr. Louis Bengyella, associate research professor and lead diagnostician. According to Bengyella, “Accuracy and speed are what the diagnostic lab offers its clientele. We are also in constant communication with each client from sample arrival to identification of the pest and offer management options when requested.”
The lab will rely on the expertise of turfgrass faculty in the Department of Plant Science including John Kaminski, Professor of turfgrass management, and Ben McGraw, associate professor of turfgrass entomology. “Our goal is to take the guessing game out of the hands of turfgrass managers and use our combined expertise to provide accurate results and recommendations as quickly as possible,” said Kaminski. In most cases, diagnosis is made within 24 hours of receiving a sample in the lab, and often sooner. Clients are initially notified of the diagnosis by text, email, or phone and are then sent a formal diagnostic report for their records.
The diagnostic lab was conceived out of the need to close the gap for a fast and reliable service for the turfgrass community in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. According to Kaminski, who has more than 24 years of diagnostic experience, “In addition to helping out the industry, we benefit from being up-to-date on active pests and can utilize that information to warn others of what might be heading their way.” One way that the group plans to do this is through a series of social media platforms, blogs on their website, and the mobile diagnostic app Turfpath.
The lab’s new website, turfpestlab.psu.edu, will feature an active blog that will share current pest updates, timely pest management recommendations, and even provide some insights into the procedures used to diagnose problems. In addition to the website, the lab will use the free mobile app Turfpath developed by Kaminski to send regional-specific SMS updates to notify turfgrass managers of what pests are active in their area. Information will also be shared across their social media platforms under the username @PSUTurfPests.
In addition to identifying and solving unknown problems for turfgrass managers, another key component of the lab will be to monitor and track pesticide resistance that can limit or reduce the ability of a product to control resistant insects, weeds, and pathogens. By identifying resistant pest populations at individual properties, the team can then work with managers to develop more effective pesticide programs for their facility. “Utilizing our research on pesticide resistance, in combination with the lab’s pesticide resistance screening service, allows us to make recommendations that will reduce pesticide use while still maintaining high turfgrass quality,” said Kaminski.
Now open to all commercial turfgrass managers, the lab did a soft launch in 2021 and worked with a select number of properties in the region. “The Penn State Diagnostic Lab has been a tremendous resource for us at Butler Country Club,“ said Micah Lowell, golf course superintendent at Butler Country Club. “If we are not 100% sure of what we are looking at in the field, we will send samples out to the lab for confirmation because we cannot waste time and money spraying incorrect pesticides. We trust the fantastic services they provide.”
Services currently offered by the Turf Pest Diagnostic Lab include:
Disease, insect, and weed identification
Pesticide resistance screening
Endophyte screening and identification
Molecular pathogen detection
DNA sequencing to the species level
In addition to providing support for turfgrass managers in Pennsylvania and the surrounding regions, the lab has received international permits to accept samples from around the world. As the lab expands it plans to add nematode assays and other helpful services to benefit the industry. “Establishing this lab has been a goal of mine for a long time and will build upon the assistance that the Penn State turf team provides for the entire industry,” said Kaminski.
For more information on the lab’s services and sampling/shipping instructions, please visit www.turfpestlab.psu.edu.