Scouting Fields Is a Season-Long Process
For Walnut, Illinois, farmer James Schoff, scouting fields is a season-long commitment to stay ahead of any potential problems that may impact yields. As soon as crops emerge, Schoff begins looking for weed issues and insect infestation both below and above ground.
"Throughout the season, we do follow-up trips to make sure our crop protection plan is doing what it is supposed to,” Schoff says. “We make sure the herbicide did what we wanted it to. And then we begin to look for plant health issues, like rootworm feeding, and scout for disease as well."
Schoff continues scouting through tasseling and when silks emerge in his corn fields. Importantly, he looks at leaves during post-silking to be sure nutrient deficiencies are at a minimum, informing future nutrient management decisions. Keeping track of every field and its issues helps Schoff Farms stay ahead of challenges and pursue higher yields throughout the season.
With all the technology and tools available to assist in scouting efforts these days, it might be too easy to say it’s easy. Truth be told, we all still make the occasional mistake. Here are a few things I think growers and consultants might benefit from keeping in mind this season:
1) Don’t jump
The longer you’ve been in this business, the easier it is to immediately attribute a problem based purely on your first instinct. That can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, the problem lies deeper.
For instance, many people see stunted or yellow corn, and they automatically jump to the conclusion that it’s a nitrogen-deficiency issue. While that may be the case, the cause of the stunted, yellow corn could be soil compaction, meaning all the rescue treatments in the world won’t fix that problem.
When it comes to nutrient deficiency, sometimes symptoms can be quite similar. It’s important to back up your instincts with data through soil sampling and tissue testing.
2) Make your investments count
While it’s true that the biggest scouting mistake is not scouting, there are certain steps you can take to make sure you’re making the most of scouting investments, whether they be testing, or just the time you’re spending in the field.
One of the biggest mistakes is simply not getting out of the truck. You want to be sure to vary what you’re seeing by getting deep into different parts of the field and seeing firsthand, up close, what your crop looks like.
For those soil sampling and tissue testing this year, you also want to be sure you get a quality sample. Depending on the request of your lab, do you need a 6-inch or 8-inch soil sample? It’s important to get as close as possible to that number or your results will be inaccurate. (If you send a 4-inch sample to a soil lab that has all of the calculations calibrated to an 8-inch sample depth, that means you’ve lost a critical amount of accuracy.)
The same can be said for tissue samples. Be sure you’re turning over exactly what the lab needs to best analyze that plant. The quality of the samples is an essential part of the interpreting of those results.
3) Utilize new tools
There are so many new tools available to help scouts, and those looking to push yield should really take a look at what they might add to their scouting arsenals.
For instance, a variety of iPad® and iPhone® tools exist that will help you diagnose nutrient deficiency immediately. Sensing technology provides the opportunity for variable-rate nitrogen application based on actual need. I think what you can do now with resin strips is really cool. You can put one out in your field to replicate and identify what roots are experiencing.
There is also a lot of interest right now in remote sensing tools to determine where you should go scout. A satellite image can tell you what parts of the field need a closer look, adding valuable information to your scouting process that would be otherwise impossible to attain.
Of course, the most important part of scouting is doing it. Get farther into the field this summer, be diligent about sampling techniques, and put a new tool in the toolbox and you just might find career-best yields.
Dr. Kyle Freeman is manager of new product development for The Mosaic Company. He is responsible for oversight and management of all research and product development efforts worldwide. Dr. Freeman and his team manage more than 600 small-plot research trials around the world and initiated a commercial trial program with more than 200 locations in 2012.