Corn disease compendium

Did You Know about Nebraska's role in this publication?

Robert M. Harveson, Extension Plant Pathologist, University of Nebraska, Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff
 APS Press is the publishing imprint of The American Phytopathological Society, the professional society to which I belong. It is a non-profit, international organization that attempts to advance the science and practice of plant health management.  

The first title produced that launched this organization was the Compendium of Corn Diseases, published in 1975. It is now in its fourth edition and has sold more copies than any other title published by APS Press. Furthermore the disease compendium series are the best-selling publications in the entire catalogue of the press. However, did you know that plant pathologists from UNL were instrumental in creating and developing this concept? This brief report will outline that story. 

One of the major players in this story was John Weihing. He was hired in 1950 by the University of Nebraska as the first full-time extension plant pathologist in the state, while still in the process of completing the doctoral degree, which he completed in 1954. It was during this period that he began working on the Nebraska Plant Disease Handbook, a hands-on, practical guide for educating about plant diseases. The handbook, after completion in 1954, was widely distributed to extension personnel throughout the state. Weihing also served as the superintendent of the Scotts Bluff Station [later director of the Panhandle Station – still later known as the Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC)] from 1971 till his retirement in 1984.

Due to the widespread recognition of a lack of educational information on plant diseases, an advisory committee was established by APS to begin working on a sorely needed compilation of plant diseases of corn for the U.S. This group consisted of 12 individuals, a mixture of USDA, university, and industry workers, including John Weihing and another UNL extension plant pathologist, David Wysong.

Its primary purpose was to plan, draft and publish a general and practical reference for the identification of corn diseases in the field or diagnostic lab. It was designed for extension plant pathologists or crop consultants, and later served as a model for showing the need for additional compendia on other major crops.

Three additional UNL plant pathologists contributed to the production of this new publication, well representing Nebraska expertise, particularly in bacteriology and virology - including Anne Vidaver, Max Schuster, and Myron Brakke.

After completion, the manuscript was presented to the American Phytopathological Society (APS).  At that time the society had no means for publishing, so the USDA provided the seed money for this project, which led to the eventual establishment of the APS Press and the development of many other disease compendia and books. Weihing was instrumental in writing the initial proposal to the USDA to fund the project, and the organization of the compendium was modeled on the format for his Nebraska Plant Disease Handbook.

Today, APS Press is vibrant and thriving. After beginning with the pilot corn disease compendium, initially funded by the Extension Service of the USDA, there have been more than 50 disease compendia published, focusing on diseases of different plants, ranging from field, vegetable and fruit and nut crops to ornamentals and forestry. Since its inception, APS Press has published more than 300 titles covering the whole spectrum of plant disease and related topics. Furthermore, it has now advanced beyond traditional books and field guides, by also publishing alternate, multi-media products including CDs, DVDs, and disease diagnosis software.  

Many current (including myself) and former PHREC personnel have taken leadership roles with advancing the disease compendium series by editing or authoring chapters in newly published titles on diseases of sugar beets, sunflowers, dry beans, soybeans, and one on peas now in progress. We have continued to represent UNL well with our participation with the creation these new publications.