Crop Consultant Trent LaMastus had a decision to make about five years ago. He was contemplating options that would provide better service to his clients and was looking at both unmanned aerial vehicles and moisture sensors.
“We have used aerial imagery for years to evaluate crops,” LaMastus said as he checked cotton, corn and soybeans fields in Humphreys County, Miss. “We considered adding drones to our services, but I decided that moisture sensors would provide more potential immediate benefit to my clients.”
Monitoring soil moisture, he says, offers producers information they can use immediately. “It helps with irrigation timing and may prevent overwatering and under watering.”
Moisture sensors show when a crop is due for irrigation. “We determine how much moisture loss occurs in a day, and we look at the stage of crop growth to determine moisture need.”
Data goes into a computer and offers LaMastus and his clients real-time information on irrigation scheduling. Irrigation timing depends on the moisture sensor data, soil types, growth stage and the near-term weather forecast. He says it’s like soil sampling. “You don’t know what to apply if you don’t know what’s in the soil.
“Growers have been very receptive,” he says.
He was installing sensors on this hot, humid day in late May. He explains that spacing depends on several factors, including soil type, crop and slope — not much of an issue on the flat fields he was scouting.
He also does grid sampling to encourage site-specific production practices. “We try to get clients on a two-year soil sampling rotation, grid sample every acre at least every other year, every three years at the most. We encourage clients to follow soil test recommendations.”
LaMastus, who lives in Cleveland, Miss., covers a lot of ground every week to take care of clients in Bolivar, Leflore, Humphreys and Yazoo counties. Cotton, corn and soybeans make up his primary crop responsibility. He says crops got off to a slow start this year with a cool, wet spring, but warmer temperatures in May encouraged plant growth.
“We started spraying cotton this week (May 21) for thrips,” he says. “Most cotton is at the one to three true leaf stage. We’re checking now, and it looks like we cleaned them up pretty good. Thrips are the only insect problems we’ve seen. We have seen no cutworms at all, but we may see some yet. We haven’t seen any spider mites.”
“We have a lot of weed pressure,” he adds. “It was hard to get herbicides out with all the rain.”
He says a lot of cotton and soybean farmers planted dicamba-tolerant varieties. “We saw drift last year,” he says, but he hopes to see a lot less this season. “Most cotton will be auxin-tolerant varieties and most farmers will use the corresponding chemistry. Last year, a lot of farmers planted these varieties as insurance, in case of drift from nearby fields, and a lot used the chemistry to clean up late weed pressure.”
He encourages producers to follow labels to the letter. “We have a lot of issues with all weed control systems,” he says. “We have to be cognizant of wind, rain, temperature, and so on. Don’t let it drift.”
He says his clients are hoping for a better cotton year. “Cotton last year was not as good as usual. A few producers reported record yields, but most were off. But everyone had a good soybean crop. Corn was a little better than average.”
He says some of this season’s bean crop got a late start, planted in late April or early May. “Corn was about a week behind, but it came up growing.”
He says corn acreage may be down slightly across his clientele. “Corn gave up a few acres to both soybeans and cotton with the advantage going to cotton.”
Scouted while in school
LaMastus says he decided he wanted to build a crop consultant business while he was in college. “I scouted for five years while I was in school,” he says. “I enjoyed it. I skipped my college graduation ceremony because I was in a cotton field scouting for thrips and cutworms. I grew up on a farm and have always enjoyed agriculture and helping things grow.”
He started his business in 1993, “right out of college.”
He got his degree in biology with emphasis in entomology, and minored in chemistry at Delta State University and continues to learn more about his trade through the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association. “MACA is an important source of information for me,” he says. “I have also gained lifelong friends, and over the years formed countless business relationships through our organization.”
“In 30-plus years, I’ve had ups and downs like everyone else. I take note of the ups and give thanks. I try to learn from the downs and move on,” he says.
And he continues to look for ways to provide better information and timely service to his clients. “I think we will use drones in the future,” he says.