Abby ag lab turns 50

Vippen Joshi has seen many changes and examined many thousands of samples during her 25 years at the facility. By Judie Steeves


he plant diagnostic pathologist in the Ministry of Agriculture’s plant health laboratory says she

loves her job as an investigator, trying to puzzle out the cause of plant health problems for growers concerned about their crops. “I’m not bored with my job,” says Vippen Joshi, explaining that every day presents a new problem, which makes her work always interesting. “And you know there’s a grower who

is waiting for answers; it’s their livelihood,” she adds. She’s seen lots of changes during the

25 years she’s been working at the lab, but there’s still always something new. That’s half the time the facility has been in operation as it celebrates 50 years this year since it was originally established in Cloverdale by plant pathologist Dave Ormrod. His first submission was handwritten in a spiral notebook, a technique that’s far from the computer-generated data of today. In 1995, the lab was relocated to the Abbotsford Agriculture Centre, where it is now, helping to identify plant health problems on more than 200 different commercial crops grown throughout the province. Services are mainly for commercial growers and agri-businesses serving the industry, but a small number of plant samples are also submitted by ministry staff, other government agencies and


Vippen Joshi, diagnostic pathologist at the plant health branch of the agriculture ministry in Abbotsford checking the stem of a blueberry plant for fungal canker.

hobby growers. The total recorded number of commercial crop samples diagnosed since 1967 is 30,000 and an estimated 150,000 slides have been examined in those 50 years. Joshi explains that it can sometimes

be difficult in the field to identify a plant health issue, particularly since the same symptoms can result from different plant health issues. However, in the lab she has equipment which helps her analyze factors that can identify even look-alike issues, using tools such as traditional microscopes, to

14 British Columbia Berry Grower • Fall-Winter 2017

more sophisticated tools such as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). ELISA is a test that detects and measures antibodies and plant diseases. This is similar to blood tests that are used to detect infectious agents in humans and animals. Other diagnostic methods include DNA-based testing, including sequencing of specific genes, and electron microscopy. A single sample may require up to 30 tests to diagnose the problem. In addition, there’s the training and experience of the diagnostic pathologist

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