Using sound science to help solve complex plant diagnostics is a hallmark of Kevin Ong, Ph.D., director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostics Laboratory and associate department head for the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Coupled with a passion for serving Texas, Ong has built a successful career that has received high notoriety from industry. To start 2023, Ong was awarded the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, and in February, was honored with the Donald M. Ferrin Memorial Service Award from the Southern Division of the American Phytopathological Society, APS.
The honor is given to a member in recognition of distinguished service to APS. Ferrin was part of the “old school” Extension specialists, Ong said.
“When you think of ‘old school’ Extension specialists, that’s him,” he said. “He embodied hands-on excellent service to his stakeholders, and it’s quite an honor to receive the recognition.”
Love for plants, science
Plants and science would lead to an extensive career, ultimately putting Ong on the path to direct the Texas Plant Diagnostics Laboratory and service the Lone Star State in diagnosing some of the most troublesome diseases.
His career path in plant diagnostics came about during his senior year in college while studying biology and chemistry.
“At the time, I was working in the plant physiology laboratory,” he said. “My focus was primarily on plant genetics and genetic engineering. Later, while pursuing my Ph.D. at Clemson University, I got into plant pathology in a production agriculture system. Then I started my professional career at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas from 2002-2008. In the fall of 2008, I transferred to College Station to take over as director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab when long-time director, Dr. Larry Barnes, retired.”
The plant disease laboratory’s mission is to support Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Department of Agriculture, the agriculture and green industry, and all Texans to protect and secure our plant resources.
Ong said working on plant diseases such as citrus canker and rose rosette disease to gain knowledge and to develop educational resources for homeowners and the industry is most satisfying.
Meeting the needs of Texans
There is always a need for plant health support, from the homeowner dealing with disease in landscape and garden plants to the producers who depend on the crops they grow.
“I enjoy meeting the needs of Texas,” he said. “We are ready to meet those needs and tackle the issues with applied research and engaging outreach programs.”
Ong said one of the challenges for the laboratory is always the need to expand its technology to stay on the cutting edge.
“But the fun part is doing and using good science to help folks learn and make good decisions when they are dealing with plant diseases,” he said.