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Diagnostics: Who Done It?

Community Contributed

By Glenn I. Teves, UH CTAHR County Extension Agent

What came first, the chicken of the egg? Figuring out what’s wrong with a sick plant or animal is both an art and a science. A system of problem solving called diagnostics is used in many industries to detect a problem in hopes of fixing the problem. An auto mechanic will try to determine what’s wrong with your car by going through a mental checklist of possible problems starting with the most basic, and possibly cheapest to correct, while moving to the more complex.

The field of diagnostics was made popular by police investigative shows such as CSI and others. This show is based in part on a real person. Dr. Lee Goff was a Forensic Entomologist at the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), and presently a professor at Chaminade College. When someone has died, he can determine how long ago the person died based on the insect growth stages found on the body, and also if the person was poisoned based on what insects were not present. Today, this technology has expanded to include DNA analysis and other high-tech sleuthing techniques utilizing high-powered microscopes and cutting-edge technology.

This methodology can also be applied to crop production or even gardening. First determine the most basic needs of the plant and whether they’ve been met, including water and nutrients. Too much or insufficient water is a good place to start in determining a problem, followed by nutrients. If we don’t get sufficient food or water, all kinds of problems can crop us. Alternatively, too much food and water can also create problems as well.

Stress can manifest itself in many ways and aggravate existing problems. Similar problems can have a recurring theme. Some problems are seasonal, including insect and disease problems. Rainy conditions present their own set of problems, such as diseases and many insects living on weeds. Summer problems are aggravated by heat stress, and accelerated insect life cycles, leading to higher populations of insects, some of which also carry diseases. Wind stress and damage is not always easy to see, but can include root and flower damage leading to lower yields, smaller fruit, and more damaged fruit. Getting a complete picture helps to get to the root of the issue, and going through a mental check list of possible problems can get to the solution.

However, some problems can be caused by a combination of stressors that are not as easy to determine. Prevention is an important tool in stopping problems. Practicing crop rotation is also an important step in keeping the soil balanced and minimizing soil-borne problems including nematodes and diseases. Conservation practices, including contouring the land and the use of windbreaks, can help to resolve wind-related problems and prevent soil from being washed or blown away. Breeding crops for adaptability to our tropical growing conditions is important since these conditions are very different from those found in the Midwest U.S., for example, and is further accentuated by weather change we’ve experienced lately. A holistic approach to problem solving in crop production usually involves creating the best possible environment for plants to thrive, and starts by growing a healthy plant or to knowing how to grow a healthy plant.


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