On Friday mornings at the Clark Produce Auction, University of Missouri Agriculture and Environment Extension agronomist Dhruba Dhakal sets up a table, plant posters and an MU Extension sign.
MU Extension’s objective is to serve all Missourians with resources and research needed to improve lives, communities and the economy. When Dhakal noticed Amish producers in Clark could benefit from a plant diagnostic clinic, he knew there was only one thing to do.
“While attending one of the sales, I spoke with some of the leaders in the Amish community and learned they were struggling with different horticultural issues,” Dhakal said. “Some vegetables were infected by different types of diseases. Some crops struggled with insects and pests. And some produce suffered from nutrient deficiency.”
Communication by phone or online can be a barrier to reaching some Amish communities, Dhakal noted. Consulting with producers at the local auction or in one-on-one farm visits overcomes these challenges while respecting others’ views and beliefs. He started the clinic in mid-June.
“From speaking with the producers in person, I realized that if I can visit their farm or do some type of diagnostic program regularly in their community, I could help them manage their crops,” Dhakal said. “In turn, this will minimize environmental pollution, increase their crop yield and enhance the quality of the produce.”
When producers try to diagnose an issue themselves and unnecessarily use pesticides or insecticides, they also risk creating pest and insect resistance, Dhakal explained.
At the produce auction, Dhakal wears a mask and maintains proper social distancing as precautions against COVID-19.
“Most of the producers from that area bring their plant tissue sample to the clinic when they come to auction, if they have any issues with their crops,” he said. “From there I try to diagnose the issue at the clinic. Sometimes I have to take pictures and take plant tissue to the plant diagnostic lab, though.”
When needed, Dhakal relies on help from MU Extension state and regional horticulturists to diagnose farmers’ produce questions. For the most part, he said, he tries to have a turnaround time of no more than one week for a diagnosis and a list of solutions.
“I will continue this program every week until Oct. 15, as they do the produce auction until that date,” Dhakal said. “I will do this program again next year. And I am looking at expanding to other sites or communities to extend this offering out even further.”
Missouri is home to more than 9,000 Amish individuals(opens in new window) across 38 settlements. While the plant diagnostic clinic is the first of its kind in the Clark area, specialists across the state work to serve Missouri’s Amish communities in a variety of ways.
For more information from MU Extension on horticulture and gardening, visit extension.missouri.edu.