The mid-point of Wisconsin's growing season is approaching. With nearly an ideal planting season crops got off to a great start. It's easy to have a conversation about too much or too little rain, but we will be more successful looking at what we can control. Depending on what the environmental conditions are there are still some steps we can take for the benefit of our crops.
When was the last time you paid a personal visit to one of your fields? When it's hot, muddy or with all the other things that we have to do it's tough to take the time. A midseason checkup may be just what the crop needs.
Crop prices are currently low for most of the things we grow. This is going to be a challenging year to make a profit. We have already committed to the seed, fertilizer, herbicides, fuel, machinery and land expenses to give our crops a good start. We usually expect to spend money for something that will positively increase profits. Crop scouting can answer the question of what is lurking out there seeking to pickpocket your yields.
By using the tools of Integrated Pest Management you can evaluate your crops. IPM is the process of identifying pests, determining population levels, balancing treatment cost versus the value of crop loss and implementing a plan of control if necessary.
Crop scouting now to monitor the progress of your crop will be beneficial. Identifying threats that may be reducing your yields will help you to better manage now and in the future. Insects, diseases or weeds that are present in your fields may lead to different management decisions. For some problems a treatment now may justify the expense. Some problems may be better solved by seed selection for next year by considering varieties resistance to the insect or disease. Based on the weed species and weed numbers you might make a change in your herbicide choice. Changing the timing to a pre-plant/pre-emergence may make the difference for better weed control.
Crop scouting can generally be divided into three categories. The first category to consider includes agriculture supply companies and individual crop consulting businesses. They provide a variety of services for purchase at a cost ranging from $7 to $10 per acre. The cost will be dependent on the extent of reporting and services contracted for. Services are available for corn, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa. The number of crop inspections may vary by the type of crop and the reporting desired. Scouting can be done for crop emergence, stand counts, weed varieties present and numbers, insects and diseases.
The second category involves crop supply companies and farmer owned co-ops that provide a less formal service to their fertilizer and pesticide customers. As their managers and sales reps work through the growing season, they will use their observations to help their clients. Responding to specific requests by their customers provides immediate support to those individual farmers. This information equips them to assess trends and potential needs or treatments as well as helping them monitor conditions over their trade area.
The do-it-yourself crop scouting would be the third category. Initially this might be very appealing. It is necessary to consider if you have the time and knowledge to be effective. The time needed to regularly evaluate your fields is a question each of us needs to personally answer. The knowledge can be acquired with some determination. UW-Extension offers a number of educational resources to improve your knowledge. There are trainings and field days on crop production. Reference publications include A3646 Pest Management in Wisconsin Field Crops or the Field Crop Scouting Manual found at http//ipcm.wisc.edu.
Georgson is the Jefferson County Extension agriculture agent.