Wallaces Farmer

Take a 1,000-word crop scouting photo

Cellphone or camera photos from the field quickly aid in crop malady diagnosis. Here are some tips to make them worth a thousand words.

Meaghan Anderson

May 15, 2024

3 Min Read
finger pointing to emerging weeds
FOCUSED PHOTO. This photo helps crop advisers help identify a weed due to a clear image with a size (finger) reference. Photos courtesy of Iowa State University

With technology playing such an integral part of our ability to effectively manage crop production, it makes sense that it also plays a key role in effective scouting.

One of the simplest technologies (now, anyway) is taking a good picture to share with a trusted adviser, a farmer-client, or even via a phone app. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, let’s make it a good one.

Quarter next to stem

I often receive images via text or email. One person may ask for an identification and management recommendation for an insect, weed or disease. Another person may ask about a possible nutrient deficiency or abiotic issue. A good image can help lead to a fast and accurate diagnosis of the pest or other crop issue.

Conversely, advisers sometimes receive poor images that result in further confusion or back-and-forth messages to get a better image. As we start scouting emerged crops, examine these reminders (based on a list from the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic) to ensure you capture pictures that truly are worth a thousand words.

  • Use a good camera to take images. Cell phones do a great job of capturing high-quality images, but digital cameras work well, too!

  • Several pictures are always better than one.

  • Take pictures of the whole plant, pest, or other issue. It’s important to get the “big picture” of the field or problem.

  • Take close-up images of any specific features that may be necessary for diagnosis. Patterns, specific symptoms, special traits or structures can all help.

  • Take images in good lighting.

Focus, focus, focus!

Lack of focus is one of the biggest issues with close-up images of problems.

Picture of a stem that couldn't be used for identification

Here are a few focus tips:

  1. Tap the cellphone screen to adjust the focus automatically.

  2. Push the capture button down halfway to focus most point-and-shoot digital cameras.

  3. Use the macro imagery options or attachments that some cameras and cellphones have to take clear, close-up images.

  4. Stick tough-to-photograph insects in a cooler or refrigerator to help get a focused image.

Other tips

Here are two miscellaneous crop scouting tips:

  • Include a standard-size reference like a coin, ruler or tape measure. Even a finger will work in a pinch!

  • Check your images before sending. I often take many images of an issue, but always check to make sure they are in focus and accurately depict the issue.

I hope your 2024 growing season is full of great pictures, easy diagnoses and a lot of walking. Check out these other resources for scouting tips and tricks!

Anderson is an ISU Extension field agronomist.

About the Author(s)

Meaghan Anderson

Meaghan Anderson is the Iowa State University Extension field agronomist for east-central Iowa. He areas of expertise include weed management, weed biology, cover crops, corn and soybean management, and Integrated Pest Management.

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