Members of the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme (TPCP) Diagnostic Clinic team travelled to Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal in March for the annual Diagnostic Clinic training trip. The trip was organised by TPCP Diagnostic Clinic Manager, Dr Trudy Paap and Field Extension Officer, Darryl Herron as well as forestry industry colleagues. Mathew HarrisKira Lynn, Cindy Ramokgano and Lente van Zyl – students working in the Diagnostic Clinic – travelled with Darryl and Trudy from 10 to 14 March.   

The aim of the trip was for the students to meet industry colleagues and for them to understand why the work done by the clinic matters. The clinic is a training ground for students to gain practical experience and training in plant pathology, an essential skill in many plant-based industries. The students also learn more about diagnostics, an important step in the treatment and management of plant diseases. 

The team first travelled to Sappi’s Ngodwana nursery in Mpumalanga, where we met Nigel Bennett and Martin O’Donovan. The nursery is one of the largest commercial forestry nurseries in the South Africa and is situated next to Sappi's Ngodwana pulp mill on the way to Mbombela. This nursery has quite a lot of history with Fusarium circinatum, which is still a problem though other pests and pathogens have started to emerge since the propagation of Eucalyptus cuttings. Professor Jolanda Roux, together with the nursery managers, have done well to manage the pests and pathogens plaguing the nursery but problems do creep in, especially in a nursery that produces millions of seedlings and cuttings a year.

The next stop was in Lenjane, KZN, where the clinic met Dieter Prigge from NCT who showed them the effects of Phytophthora root rot on susceptible Eucalyptus smithii. Our students saw the incredible damage that Phytophthora can do to a stand of susceptible trees. Over the last year, the forester has lost three compartments to this ruthless oomycete. The pathogen seems to pop up every few years, depending on the tree species planted and the amount of rain they receive. Acacia mearnsii (black wattle) will most likely be planted on some of these sites. 

Further south, the team went onto Dalton where they met with Friedel Eggers from UCL. Brought out of retirement, Friedel is helping UCL consult with their foresters. He has worked in the industry for more than 50 years and has a wealth of information on pests and diseases. Friedel showed us the damage caused by the wattle semi-looper in the province. This pest has caused a significant amount of damage across a number of sites from Mkhondo (Piet Retief) in Mpumalanga to Dalton. As a defoliator, it leaves once dense compartments of black wattle bare and a little embarrassed.

The last two days of the trip were spent with the team from Mondi. Izette Greyling organised the visit, which included talks by Mondi's breeders and wood product specialists. We were treated to a tour around their nursery, which included research, breeding, cutting and seedling production. This helped our students understand how much time, research and money goes into producing a quality tree that must have excellent wood properties and is resistant to certain pests and pathogens but also suited for a variety of planting sites…. Phew!

We would like to thank Jolanda Roux, Nigel Bennett and Martin O’Donovan from Sappi; Dieter Prigge of NCT; Friedel Eggers of UCL as well as Dr Marius du Plessis, Nicci Edwards, Izette Greyling, Kwanele Maphalala, Sphelele Mbanjwa and Owen Pietersen from Mondi for making this trip possible and teaching us so much.