As I am writing this column, grain markets are low. As someone who works with crop farmers daily, I know how during these times of low profit margins, every management decision is scrutinized and considered intently. Farmers ask, “Should we spend the money?” or “Will this expense be worth the price at harvest?” As you are making your management plan for this growing season — now that the crops are in, or soon will be — how can you make the best decisions for your farm? By increasing your crop scouting.
Sure, it is easy to drive down the road on the way to the coffee shop or to pick up parts and look out the window. You admire the nice straight rows or notice that one field appears greener than the next. Maybe you think, “Wow, that field looks clean today. Hmm, that corner is greening up. I should call the co-op and see if they sprayed.”
This isn’t really scouting. Once the crop is planted and the planter is washed and put away, that is the time to stop at the fields and go for a walk. Yes, I mean actually scouting.
Field monitoring, or scouting, is the key to all pest control management programs. Before you decide to make a management decision that can cost thousands of dollars, you need to identify what the pest or weed is, and what the threshold level is. Management decisions can vary from a fieldwide approach for pest management, such as applying a pesticide, insecticide or herbicide to the entire field or farm, to perhaps spot-spraying weeds along a fencerow, or just monitoring the field for now. Some pests such as Japanese beetles can be vigorous at eating the foliage of soybeans in early fall. Though it might look bad, rarely do you need to apply any insecticides.
To effectively scout fields, you should know what pests, diseases and weeds are in your area and affecting your planted crops. The University of Wisconsin Integrated Pest and Crop Management team has many great resources and frequently puts out timely updates on emerging pests throughout the growing season. They publish a monthly newsletter that farmers and agronomists can reference for resources to use during their scouting to help identify what they are seeing. This newsletter can be found at ipcm.wisc.edu and will be a valuable resource when scouting.
When scouting, make a large W pattern in the field or area of the field you are looking at. A pest found along one edge or in one area of a field may not be representative of what you will find in the entire field. Break larger fields into sections and make several W’s across the field to scout the whole field.
Take some basic tools with you when you scout. If you are scouting emergence and plants per acre, a tape measure is useful. If scouting for insects or diseases, taking a knife to split stems and plastic bags to put samples in for further analysis are a good idea.
Scout early, often
It is always a good time to scout fields, and there is no such thing as too much scouting. By walking your fields frequently and using the scouting guides available on the UW Integrated Pest and Crop Management website, you can identify pests early, helping to make cost-effective and timely management decisions on your farm. There are scouting guides and a general calendar of events available for most common crops. Reviewing these guides will help you increase your scouting skills, and they are available for free!
Frequent scouting will help you know what is happening with your crops and make informed management decisions on your farm. As you are scouting, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to your local Extension agent. We can provide you with further information.
Baker is the Extension agriculture agent in Rock County, Wis.