Scouting Advice For Year Ahead

Corn Field

Scouting success stories are legion. Soybean aphids spotted and zapped before yields go south. Nutrient-deficient plants found and fed before the crop falters. But these happy endings come at a price, and dealers have been weighing the value of offering crop scouting services for years.

Some retailers are doing a lot more scouting in these days just because there are so many more problems to find — over a season that can stretch from March through September. Here are insights on how several companies have handled the challenges.

At What Cost

Many of the dealers we talked with wrestle with the whole pricing picture. Some offer free scouting or monitoring as part of an input purchase or as simply good customer service. Others have set up a specific fee programs.

Ed Sand, president of Sands of Iowa Ag Services, Marcus, IA, says his company offers scouting expertise for a fee, but it’s a tough sell. “We do so much of it for free, to give full service. It’s always a struggle to get producers to sign up for additional fees when they figure you’re out there looking already,” he says.

Kevin Knudtson, agronomist at Landmark Services Cooperative, Juda, WI, says his team doesn’t charge for scouting because they find enough problems to address in fields to generate income from prescribed products. The company has tried charging based on a pre-set number of visits. The drawback? When staff found a problem in one grower’s field, they’d want to do a more intense schedule for the rest of their customers nearby. “Our agronomists — who are out every day in the geographies they cover — want to be the first to alert their growers if there is a problem,” says Knudtson.

Crop Production Services (CPS), Attica, OH, charges a per-acre fee for fields enrolled in its SoyWatch program. These fields receive a scouting trip with reports and recommendations every two weeks, says Brent Kagy, crop consultant at CPS. In some cases, as when soybean aphids arrive, spot checks will kick up to three-day intervals to monitor the quickly changing populations. For intermittent scouting trips, such as those with a plant health program, the service is supplied as a value addition to a chemistry purchase.

Kevin Black, technical manager for insecticides and fungicides with GROWMARK, Bloomington, IL, notes the company differentiates between crop monitoring and crop scouting. Monitoring is what the company expects each of its crop specialists, each salesman to do, visiting fields periodically to stay on top of pests and problems hitting fields. “Scouting delineates a bit more formal program,” he explains.

Huge Investment

Many dealers we talked with warn of the time and manpower a scouting program demands. The days of scouting predominantly for weeds, doing a clean-up treatment when they’re spotted, and kicking back after July 1 are long gone, Knudtson notes.

Says Black: “It’s a huge investment in time and effort, and the grower needs to understand that it is not cheap to provide this service.”

Indeed, Darrell Fellows, agronomy division manager with Ag Valley Coop, Edison, NE, says his company has brought on a new person for scouting, but it’s too early to tell if the move has paid off. Ag Valley also hires college students as summer interns who scout fields as part of their responsibilities. Fellows has hired seven so far for this season. One big problem with the interns is they have to return to school in mid-August, leaving the company in the final key 30 days of the season.

Kagy emphasizes that “for a subscription program to succeed, all commitments must be kept.” He’s found it best to hire a summer employee with field scouting as his sole responsibility. “We all too easily get in the habit of putting out fires and hoping to catch up later. It’s a relief to know that a designated employee was watching customers’ fields daily,” he says. Kagy assures growers that this staff does not mean he won’t be visiting their fields personally, but this approach helps him to be more efficient.

Then too, staff training can take considerable time and energy. At CPS, Kagy says, “We try to begin the program with a two-day classroom style training session, and as crops begin to develop we spend in-field time with the beginning scouts.”

At Landmark, Knudtson says agronomists spend a “ton of time” in the off-season learning what to look for in their geographies, whether it’s insects, diseases, or nutrient deficiencies. “And there’s four times more stuff to keep an eye out for than there has been in the past,” he laments.

To help keep growers’ scouting demands workable, Black suggests talking to a customer to ascertain specific needs, and then tailoring a program to address those issues. “If a grower says he’s been worried about Western bean cutworm, don’t spend the season scouting for everything else, just help him work with the cutworm,” Black says.

Retailers find scouting can just be good business. “Many times before we make a recommendation, we want to look at the situation,” says Fellows. Sand adds that while a company may not have a written guarantee for its work, “you’re always going back to those fields looking to make sure you did a good job.”

Tools For The Road

Crop consultant Brent Kagy offered insight on what Crop Production Services, Attica, OH, feels staff need when sizing up crops. Each field scout is armed with the Field Crop Scouting Manual from the University of Illinois, the pocket size Corn, Soybean, Wheat and Alfalfa Field Guide from The Ohio State University, as well as a variety of industry supplied field guides. A field scout’s toolkit would include a measuring tape, spade shovel, pocketknife, and plastic bags and bottles for sample collection. Darrell Fellows, agronomy division manager with Ag Valley Coop, Edison, NE, would include a soil probe for monitoring soil moisture, as in his state all scouting acres are irrigated. Water management is an important part of the company’s scouting services.

One item many dealers would not be without is a dependable 4-wheeler. “We get over the acres a lot faster and see more with one,” says Fellows.

Ominous Year Ahead?

This season, dealers have a variety of problems to look for. Seeing this is the “on” year for soybean aphids, many scouts will be watching closely for the pest. Kagy reports that the first year the aphids moved into Ohio, few agronomists there knew what the strange insect was and if there would be any effect on crop yield. “We identified some in SoyWatch fields, and by researching the pest problems in Canada were able to confidently recommend appropriate treatment,” describes Kagy. Growers reported an eight- to 12-bushel yield improvement where they treated.

“Aphids are always a concern because we can easily get up to 25,000 to 30,000 acres that need to be sprayed. That would be a big swing from last year when we sprayed very little for aphids,” says Sand.

With news of the new stink bugs (brown marmorated, red banded), Black says GROWMARK teams — particularly to the East and South — will be asking more questions, and growers will be “looking a little more intently at their crops.”

Black says with the influx of these new pests, including the soybean aphid, experts are starting to look more at the soybean pest complex. “There are a lot of questions about how these pests interact when they are in the same field together,” he says. He also sees a strong, growing awareness in the ag community that thresholds in general are “probably not completely up to date. They need to be re-examined.”

More than one dealer mentioned the need to monitor pockets of herbicide resistance. And scouts will be on the lookout for gray leaf spot in corn and SDS (sudden death syndrome) and white mold in soybeans.

Just last year, CPS Attica added NutriScription tissue testing to the firm’s scouting regimen. The program adds information about what is going on nutrition-wise inside that plant that goes beyond visual symptoms.

Landmark’s Knudtson is optimistic about the additional scouting his company is doing for nutrient deficiencies. Last year, the company pulled some 250 tissue samples to help evaluate nutrient deficiencies early in the growing season.

In 2011, Kagy says CPS is launching an OptiYield program as a trial with a number of growers. The goal is to help push growers’ soybean yields to previously unseen levels. This will be accomplished through more frequent monitoring and prescriptions of the ideal yield-protecting and enhancing products. A series of checks will monitor performance expectations on each farm.

Black has found that more people are looking at scouting because of the new technologies that have come along recently, including fungicides applications for plant health and increases interest in insecticide use on soybeans. “It’s driving the question of, ‘Should we be doing this, and/or do we actually have the pests and diseases out there that justify this?’”

Fellows would warn dealers not to overlook the potential for problems in fields and the potential for scouting business, even in this day of high-tech seed. “The thought process might be that we don’t need to scout fields like we did in the past because we have so much resistance in the seed,” he says. “I believe the progressive producer is still after that highest return on investment, and it still requires crop scouting or consulting.”

Leave a Reply

Fungicides Stories

FungicidesResearchers Target Soybean Disease With Genetic Resistance Study
August 6, 2014
University of Illinois researchers will share new information on controlling sudden death syndrome through genetic resistance at this year's Agronomy Day. Read More
Soybean field
FungicidesValent Launches New Seed Protection Fungicide For Soybeans
July 16, 2014
The INTEGO SUITE System contains the first new, novel seed protection fungicide chemistry registered in 30 years by the EPA for protection against Pythium and Phytophthora. Read More
FungicidesNew Players May Make Pest Headlines In Corn, Soybean
April 1, 2014
The usual insects and diseases took a bit of a break in 2013, but other culprits surfaced — and could return. Read More
Frog eye leaf spot on soybean
FungicidesMake The Case For Fungicides In 2014
February 3, 2014
New products are looking good, but will growers bite with lower crop prices? Read More

Trending Articles

ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide Program
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Resurgence Of Crop Protection
August 4, 2014
Plenty of new offerings over the next few years should see a rebirth for the crop protection products category in terms of market share. Read More

Latest News

Allied Cooperative Grain Plant
ManagementArcadia Co-op To Merge With Allied Cooperative
August 28, 2014
Allied Cooperative has announced that members of Arcadia Co-op voted in favor of a merger with Allied Cooperative, paving the way for the consolidation which will be effective on December 1, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesBioinsecticide VENERATE Now Registered In California
August 27, 2014
Marrone Bio Innovations' VENERATE is a new tool to help California growers control crop-damaging insect pests, fight the development of insect resistance and reduce pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Read More
CropLife 100Two Iowa-Based Ag Co-ops To Merge
August 27, 2014
The Board of Directors and management of United Western Coop, Missouri Valley, IA has completed a merger with Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, IA, effective September 1, 2014. Read More
FertilizerKoch Expands AGROTAIN Nitrogen Stabilizer Portfolio
August 26, 2014
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC has added two new innovative nitrogen stabilizers to the AGROTAIN product family – AGROTAIN ADVANCED and AGROTAIN DRI-­MAXX. Read More
Seed/BiotechDuPont To Build Two Seed Treatment Centers
August 26, 2014
DuPont has announced construction on two state-of-the-art centers dedicated to developing and testing seed treatment formulations, applications and seed handling techniques in an important step toward bringing new solutions to growers. Read More
Seed/BiotechLoveland Products Acquires A Controlling Interest In Ag…
August 26, 2014
Loveland Products, a subsidiary of Agrium , has announced the company has acquired a controlling interest in Agricen, a Dallas-area agricultural biotechnology company delivering biochemical-based products for efficient and sustainable plant nutrition. Read More
StewardshipUp Close Look At The 2014 Environmental Respect Award W…
August 25, 2014
The 2014 Environmental Respect Award winners were honored recently at the 24th annual event in Wilmington, DE. Read More
Eric SfiligojAg Science Rejection Carries Consequences
August 25, 2014
As innuendo and fear dog the regulatory process, agriculture can’t get the new tools it needs to combat world hunger. Read More
LegislationFarmers Dismayed As New Farm Bill Dumps Direct Payments
August 25, 2014
The threatened end of cash subsidies to the nation’s row crop farmers dates back through at least the last two iterations of national agriculture policy legislation. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK CEO To Retire
August 22, 2014
GROWMARK chief executive officer Jeff Solberg has announced his retirement effective September 15, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesDuPont’s Prevathon Approved For Dry Beans
August 22, 2014
DuPont Prevathon insect control powered by Rynaxypyr has received EPA registration for foliar use on dry bean crops, including dried shelled peas and beans. Read More
ManagementNCGA DuPont New Leaders Program Enters Sophmore Season
August 20, 2014
The National Corn Growers Association and DuPont are pleased to announce the second year of the NCGA DuPont New Leaders Program. Read More
FungicidesVerdesian Links Up With Mitsui, Hokusan
August 20, 2014
Mitsui Chemicals Agro, Inc., and Hokusan Co., announced the signing of an exclusive licensing agreement allowing Verdesian Life Sciences global access to its patented technology for suppressing mycotoxin contamination in wheat and barley. Read More
SprayersUniversity Of Illinois Introduces New Spray App
August 18, 2014
University of Illinois Extension has released a new smartphone app for making sprayer-related calculations. Pesticide Spray Calculator, or Spray Calc, Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Names New Manager Of Federal Government Relati…
August 18, 2014
Laura Wood Peterson has joined Syngenta as manager of federal government relations, based in Washington, DC. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science …
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentDeere Announces Factory Layoffs
August 18, 2014
Deere & Co. has announced it will reduce the size of its manufacturing workforce at some agricultural equipment factories in response to current market demand for its products. Read More