A scout should look for weeds and weed escapes, insects, diseases, drainage problems, and nutrient deficiencies — items that can threaten growers’ yields. “You’re looking out for the health of the plant,” explains Dr. Gary Fellows, BASF technical marketing manager. “Take your time walking the field. The more you walk, the more you find things going on that cause the plant to lose yield.”
That scouting program may start before the first seed is ever planted, says Dustin Hoeft, agronomist at Farmers 4-County Coop in Belle Plaine, IA. “Generally, we’ll begin scouting a farmer’s fields five days after planting, but it depends on the herbicide program,” he says. “We may start scouting before planting, especially in a no-till or complete post program.”
Weeds and insects are the focus of the early scouting. “We scout three to four times on average in the spring, including looking at stand counts. We’ll start looking for diseases during the second and third scouting,” he says.
Farmers 4-County Coop scouts know each grower’s plan for each field. “The lines of communication must always be open during the planning stage, especially after you’ve built a relationship with the grower,” advises Hoeft. “And the longer you work with a field, the more you get to know its history. You’ll know the more problematic fields, which then get a closer look.”
Building On Basics
Every grower-customer of Blanchard Valley Farmers Cooperative, Inc. in Findlay, OH, is offered the basic scouting program, but they can add features such as a second tissue testing for a more customized program for their corn, soybean, wheat, and alfalfa crops. Depending on the management program they select, they can expect four to six scout visits in a typical year.
For example, a soybean grower may contract for six visits between July and mid-August. During the initial visit, the scout will check for aphids, bean leaf beetles, Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, and other pests to determine the timing of any necessary fungicide applications. A follow-up visit to check for signs of Asian soybean rust will be scheduled shortly before the soybeans move into the R-4 growth stage.
The Doctor Is In
A scout can make a difference in the plant’s overall health, says Boehn. “If the plant doesn’t feel well, it’s not productive, just like a person who’s sick isn’t as productive at work,” he says. “Stress can affect a person’s productivity. It’s the same with the plants. While a doctor will do blood tests to find out what’s wrong before administering medications, we like to do tissue tests to be sure before we do something foliar or apply fertilizer or chemicals,” he says.
“I’m like the grower’s doctor,” Boehn says. “Hopefully I’m always a step ahead, but if the grower does see something in his field that concerns him, I want to be the first person he thinks to call.”
“Growers are not as willing to pay us to scout on the corn fields,” Boehn says, which stems from a time when the retailer didn’t charge for scouting. “Now they want in-depth scouting, and we’re going to charge for that service. Some of our growers are a little slow to adapt.”
On the flip side, Boehn sees customers — many in their 30s — who want to do everything right. “These guys look at farming as a true business and they understand that they have to spend money to make money,” he says.