10 Steps to Better Pest Management

04:23PM Jan 22, 2018
New technology makes record keeping faster, easier and more complete
( Darrell Smith )

Without question, farms with a designated pest boss (one person in charge of countering all crop threats) do a better, more timely job of pest control, says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist. But all pest bosses are not equal. “We can separate pest bosses by how well they keep records,” Ferrie says. “The best ones realize thorough record keeping is essential to pest management.”

Every pest boss starts with a master plan prepared well ahead of planting season. Then he or she records any changes, such as switching varieties or herbicides, as well as problems that arise and treatments applied during the growing season.

“Keeping a pest management plan up to date requires effort from the entire pest management team,” Ferrie notes. “When chinks show up in a farm’s pest management armor, they usually start in the scouting and reporting process.”

Here are some tips to help you receive maximum benefit from your pest management plan:

1. Record everything. “Every time a team member enters or observes a field, he must record what is happening,” Ferrie says. “Even if everything is fine, it must be recorded.”

2. Don’t trust your memory. On smaller operations, the pest boss is usually a one-person team. “I see pest bosses who keep all their records in their heads,” Ferrie says. “Some people have good enough memories to do that; but too often there’s no record to fall back on when things go wrong.

“Say you and your consultant are analyzing field maps after harvest. The consultant points to a low-yielding area. Merely telling him that area had a poor stand doesn’t help much because a ‘poor stand’ means different things to different farmers. You need to be able to call up actual stand counts and pest numbers. If you need to check on what happened in a field in past years, memory isn’t sufficient.”

3. Take pictures of crop problems. Include photos, taken by people or drones, in your pest management plan.

Documenting failures might be more important than recording successes, and pictures can do both. “It’s just as important to know where a herbicide failed as where it worked,” Ferrie says. “Your record of observations and pictures is what enables you to accomplish things with your plan next season.”

4. All team members must contribute. In many operations, the pest boss can’t visit every field in a timely manner, so scouting is done by team members, whether they are employees, retailers or consultants.

“All the data they collect must be reported to the pest boss, so he or she can access it,” Ferrie says.

“It’s not enough for a retailer to scout a field, identify a problem and make a treatment. The action must be recorded. The bigger the pest management team, the more crucial record keeping becomes,” he adds.

5. Build a pest management database. “Pest management records must cover multiple years,” Ferrie says. “Often, a threat will pop up that you last experienced three or four years ago, such as aphids or spider mites triggered by weather conditions. You need to be able to check where it occurred, how you treated it and how the treatment worked.”

6. Put technology to work. If you’re new to pest management record keeping, it’s fine to start simple.

“The traditional pocket notebook is still useful, as long as you pull it out and make an entry every time you visit a field and then transfer that information to your master pest management plan,” Ferrie says. “That notebook could get lost or wind up in the washing machine.”

Some pest bosses carry a copy of their master plan to the field. “That way, everything from hybrids to chemical treatments is right at their fingertips,” Ferrie says. “If the pest boss or his scout spots a problem specific to certain hybrids, such as disease, he can quickly check other fields containing those hybrids.”

The past decade has unleashed an array of technological innovations, starting with smartphones, that can make a pest boss more efficient and effective. “You can take notes and snap a picture, and use the phone’s GPS feature to record the location of the threat,” Ferrie says. “You can send the information to your retailer or consultant, and he can go directly to the site and analyze the problem.”

Software programs let you carry your master plan to the field in your smartphone or tablet. “You can record stand counts today, and then return weeks later to the exact spot,” Ferrie says. “You can share the location with others. You can pull up previous years’ data or as-applied maps to check the effectiveness of a treatment.”

7. Store data on the cloud. The newest pest management software programs are cloud-based. “Information collected by all members of the pest management team is transmitted instantly and logged together,” Ferrie says. “The pest boss has instant access to help make more timely treatment decisions without the need for a phone call or email.”

8. Choose software that fits your style. “Software programs range from simple to complicated and from cheap to expensive,” Ferrie says. “All of them can be used to manage in-season threats, monitor crops, review the season after harvest and make changes for next year.”

Several of the most popular programs include Climate FieldView, from The Climate Corporation, a division of Monsanto Company; AgFiniti, from Ag Leader Technology; and ScoutPro, from ScoutPro Inc. An online search for scouting apps will provide more.

9. Put your information to work. “After harvest, sit down with your entire farm management team and analyze yield maps,” Ferrie advises. “Yield maps are the scorecard of your growing season. When you spot a low-yielding area, pull up your pest management records and figure out the cause. Get everyone’s input, so you can figure out how all the pieces fit together. You may find the low yield resulted from problems with tillage or the planter or the sprayer, or something else entirely.”

Getting everyone in on the post-season analysis keeps the entire staff on their toes. “For example, it reminds combine operators to produce spatially accurate, calibrated yield maps,” Ferrie says. “Accurate yield maps are just as important as scouting records because they tie everything together. Uncalibrated yield maps are as useless as incomplete scouting reports.”

10. Note the impact of weather. “Either record or be able to access data such as rainfall, evapotranspiration and sunlight [radiation],” Ferrie says. “As the season takes shape, you might want to look back in your records to the last wet or dry season, to anticipate problems. Many pests are driven by climatic conditions.”

Protecting crops from pests takes time, effort and skill—and that, Mr. or Ms. Pest Boss, is why the job has been entrusted to you. Never have more tools been available to equip you for pest management success.