A Shot in the Arm

A man wearing a light blue collared shirt and a grey zip-up jacket stands next to a short-haired woman wearing a black sweater.
David Fulgham works with staff leader Clarissa Balbalian, the manager of the diagnostic lab.

Private support bolsters plant pathology lab

Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson

David Fulgham did not hesitate to show his support for the Mississippi State University Extension Service Plant Pathology Diagnostic Lab when his chance came. The MSU graduate had been a regular customer for the better part of a decade.

Fulgham (class of 1999) is president of Fulgham’s Inc., a Tupelo-based tree preservation consulting service that helps communities and landowners with their tree-care needs. Employees of his company, including regional manager Matt Copley (class of 2010), frequently send plant tissue and soil samples to the lab for analysis and identification of plant diseases.

The MSU Foundation worked with Fulgham’s to secure a $25,000 donation in annual installments over the next 5 years.

“We use the lab constantly in diagnosing disease and troubleshooting our clients’ problems,” Fulgham says. “The staff has always gone above and beyond to help us, and we wanted to return the favor.”

Leading that staff is Clarissa Balbalian, manager of the diagnostic lab. The lab is an affiliate of the National Plant Diagnostic Network and serves the Mississippi Department of Agriculture Bureau of Plant Industries as its regulatory plant pathology lab.

“Their generosity allows us to continue serving clients with plant and soil testing needs. We will always be grateful for their support.”

Will Staggers

“The extra funding comes with no strings attached, so it allows us to purchase equipment we might need to safeguard agriculture in Mississippi,” Balbalian explains. “I’ve recently been able to buy surveying tools that can help us identify emerging pests in our state and region, and I’m also able now to pay graduate students to run tests on samples so we can serve our clients more efficiently.”

Copley said Fulgham’s uses the lab for about 90 percent of its client requests and that he personally sends 30 to 40 soil or tissue samples to the lab each year.

“If I’m not sending them samples, I’m calling them and emailing photos when I want a second opinion,” he says. “The lab helps us confirm our analyses, and we use that to our advantage to further the quality of our customer service.”

Will Staggers, MSU Foundation assistant director of development, said unrestricted, needs-based funds for MSU Extension are the most needed and toughest to find.

“The contribution from Fulgham’s Inc. was a big shot in the arm for Clarissa, because she was able to use a portion of her allocation to keep a graduate student in the lab and pay for supplies,” Staggers says.

To learn more about opportunities to support the lab and Extension, contact Staggers at (662) 325-2837 or wstaggers@foundation.msstate.edu.

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