One of the most important farm management practices is scouting fields. While some farmers may hire a commercial scouting service, farmers should perform at least some scouting on their own so they can see for themselves how their crops are performing.
While harvest is well underway in many areas, and completed in others, farmers are already looking ahead to spring planting season. With the growing season comes the need to protect yield potential. Scouting is one of the best ways to do that because it allows a farmer to see anything that looks abnormal because of damage from insects, weeds, soil deficiencies, fertilizer burn, herbicide carryover, or weather-related issues.
Scouting your fields may seem like an overwhelming task but it is not as daunting as it may seem. After all, no one knows your fields and crops better than you. Here are some tips to make the process as manageable as possible:
Use the Z or W walking technique. If you just check the edges of the fields you are likely to miss potential problem areas.
Know when you can expect certain weeds or diseases in your area so that you will know when to be on the lookout for signs of damage from those weeds or diseases.
Weather has a huge impact on weeds, diseases and pests. It is critical, then, to keep an eye on weather patterns.
Take diligent notes so you can compare the results of your scouting efforts from year to year.
Make scouting a priority and build it into your schedule so that you don’t fall behind in your efforts.
If threshold numbers are met, use the correct treatment practices.
When scouting, consider sending samples of diseased plants (if found) to a laboratory to get the proper disease diagnosis. You also can consult with agronomist or extension personnel if you find weeds or insects you don’t recognize.
Always check the canopy. Diseases favor high-humidity and will be easier to locate in the canopy. You also should check fields by elevation since low areas are more susceptible to freeze and disease while higher areas will remain warmer and dryer.
When scouting your fields, it also is important that you have a pest kit, including a camera, so that taking notes and gathering samples is easy to do. And remember, scouting your fields on a regular basis can help you catch and diagnose problems early before any losses occur.