Agriculture support labs still open for business, with modifications

As the pandemic of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by novel coronavirus, impacts farmers’ ability to get ready for planting season, labs and other support aids remain open with limitations.

Taking a soil sample
Photo by George Silva

This information is current as of April 1, 2020.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every sector of Michigan communities. Michigan State University has implemented several restrictions and precautions to minimize risk and to comply with Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21. These same precautions apply to MSU Extension staff and activities. For up-to-date information on MSU's handling of the coronavirus situation, you can visit the university’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus website.

Agriculture in Michigan has also been affected, but steps have been taken to minimize the impact on normal operations in the food supply chain. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance from March 19, 2020 — Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response — identifies a list of workers that “have a special responsibility to maintain [their] normal work schedule.” This involves those working in the food and agriculture industries including but not limited to “employees of companies engaged in the production of…substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids.

One example of facilities that support agricultural production is testing labs. Spring is a common time to send in soil samples to test for nutrient levels ahead of fertilizer applications, particularly following an unusually wet fall like much of the state experienced in 2019. The MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient lab is one of the major testing labs in the state, and they have released the following message:

The Soil and Plant Nutrient lab continues to operate during this time and results are going out within 10 days of receipt. Customers will be unable to secure soil test boxes from their county Extension offices due to closures related to novel coronavirus; instead they can mail their samples in Ziploc bags directly to the lab. Print off the information sheet from the website to accompany the samples along with a check made out to MSU for the correct amount from the fee schedule.

In situations critical to essential services, where farmers cannot wait for the additional processing time by mail, SPNL samples can be dropped off at the loading dock on the south side of the Plant and Soil Sciences Building, located at 1066 Bogue Street in East Lansing, Michigan. Samples must be left on the designated cart on the loading dock. Submission forms will be located on the cart as well, and samples that are not in prepaid SPNL soil boxes will be billed after sample completion.  

Testing soils for pests such as nematodes is another important aspect of crop production. As the growing season gets underway, identifying pests, diseases and other factors impacting plant growth will be another critical need for many growers. For those needing to send samples to MSU's Plant & Pest Diagnostics lab, they have released the following message:

Effective March 25, Michigan State University Plant & Pest Diagnostics (PPD) will no longer be accepting drop-off samples or walk-in consultations. We are still processing mail-in samples and can be reached via email at

For plant health assessment samples and insect and plant identification, please send a preliminary email to with digital images to see if a diagnosis/identification can be made without a physical sample. Please remember to photograph the injury symptoms both up close and at a distance, as well as include details on any patterns, timing, chemical applications, etc. This is the same information typically requested on the MSU PPD submittal form.

If you plan to submit a nematode soil sample, physical plant health sample, or we request a physical sample by U.S. mail, please email us so we are aware your package is coming. Please do not ship samples on Fridays, and whenever possible use the U.S. Postal Service. Also, please include the MSU PPD submittal form in your package.

Due to the current circumstances, please allow additional processing time. Thank you for your understanding.

A&L Great Lakes Labs and Dairyland Laboratories are also open for essential business, with modifications to their work procedures, and continue to process samples (soil, tissue, feed, etc.). It is advised that you contact your testing lab prior to sending in your samples to ensure their business operations have not changed and to find out what their current turnaround times are. If your local elevator collects samples and sends them in for processing, call or email them to see what the current turn-around time is as well. When dropping off samples or having them picked up from your farm, practice social distancing.

Pesticide certification exams

The pesticide certification testing events led by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) that were scheduled throughout the state for March have been cancelled. As of the writing of this article, MDARD has not released information on whether April testing will be available. This is an important component for many farmers and agribusinesses at this time of year, and MDARD is working to provide a solution for those affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Continue to check MDARD's pesticide exam website for updates about cancellations (select "Enter as Guest").

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