“I initially thought of studying pharmacy,” says Doré de Villiers. So how did she end up researching apple replant disease with Prof. Adéle McLeod?
It all started when she chatted with Dr Lynn Hoffman of the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Stellenbosch University. De Villiers was in her final year of a BSc in microbiology and genetics, and Hoffman convinced her to apply for a BScHons in plant pathology.
“That was at the end of 2016,” recalls De Villiers. “I went to see Adéle, and she had a project on apple scab for me.”
De Villiers says this was her first exposure to plant pathology and the deciduous fruit industry, and she loved every minute — so much so that she wanted to continue. McLeod offered her an MSc project on apple replant disease.
For her MSc, De Villiers looked at different replant-disease treatments, including semi-selective chemicals and organic soil amendments. She conducted glasshouse and orchard trials and fondly remembers the fieldwork, including applications with a knapsack sprayer.
“I grew to love apples,” says De Villiers. “If I could rewind time, I think I would have gone into agriculture from the start.”
Her first job after completing her MSc was at Haygrove, but De Villiers was keen to return to Stellenbosch University. She soon applied for a position in the Plant Disease Clinic. “It felt like coming home,” she says. “Now I’m exactly where I want to be.”
According to De Villiers, every day at the Plant Disease Clinic is different. Samples of any plant can arrive from any part of the country, although most are from the Western Cape. The Disease Clinic aims to diagnose the problem.
“When I wanted to study pharmacy, it was not to count pills,” says De Villiers. “I wanted to work with pathogens and understand what causes disease so that I could find a solution. Now I’m doing exactly that but with plants.”