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

FungicidesSudden Death Syndrome, Brown Stem Rot Reported In Indiana Soybeans
September 3, 2014
Farmers and retailers should be watching for symptoms of these two diseases over the next few weeks as they are best managed through preventative methods. Read More
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

Trending Articles

Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. 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

Latest News

Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Faces Second Lawsuit Over Agrisure Viptera Cor…
September 23, 2014
A second company has sued Syngenta AG over sales of genetically modified corn seed not approved by China. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Field Guide For Farmers Expanded
September 23, 2014
Farmers interested in planting cover crops to improve soil health now have an updated and expanded resource in the second edition of the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide. Read More
HerbicidesArysta LifeScience Launches Contest For Wheat Growers
September 23, 2014
The Flush after Flush Photo Finish contest encourages farmers across the U.S. to participate through Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #FlushAfterFlush. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Confirms Merger Of Equals Discussions Wit…
September 23, 2014
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with Yara International regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
StewardshipProgram To Examine Ag-Related Practices, Policies To Pr…
September 22, 2014
A panel discussion on October 14 will include a significant discussion on key issues and solutions related to all aspects of harmful algal blooms. Read More
Eric SfiligojIt’s Product Of The Year Voting Season
September 22, 2014
Readers of CropLife IRON will choose 2014’s best new product over the next month. Read More
Palmer pigweed in soybean stubble
HerbicidesValent To Discontinue Gangster Herbicide
September 22, 2014
Valent will discontinue Gangster Herbicide after the 2015 growing season as growers can now deploy Fierce XLT herbicide in soybeans. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Crowd Tops 2013 Show
September 19, 2014
The 52nd annual Ohio State University Farm Science Review welcomed more than 130,000 farmers, industry professionals, FFA students and agricultural enthusiasts during the three-day event. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Approves Enlist Following Rigorous Review
September 18, 2014
Dow AgroSciences now awaits EPA registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, the companion herbicide to the Enlist traits, which is expected in the near future. Read More
BlendersYargus Appoints New Plant Manager
September 18, 2014
Steve Shaffer will direct and coordinate daily operations at the company’s Marshall, IL, manufacturing plant, where the Layco line of material handling equipment is produced. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More