How much easier farming would be if pest threats never changed. But of course pests, and the products used to counter them, are constantly evolving (just like everything else about farming). So keeping up with pests is a year-around process.
Think of the process as continuing education. “Fortunately, there are many sources of knowledge available to the pest boss and his team members,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “The key to utilizing it—and something too many operations overlook—is to make education, and the sharing of new knowledge, just as important as every other aspect of pest management.
“During the off-season, there are more educational opportunities than a pest boss and his team will have time for,” Ferrie continues. “So they must plan, prioritize, delegate and share information. Just like every other aspect of the farm, you want to maximize the return on investment for the time and dollars you spend on education. Choose the meetings you attend based on the substance of the presentations, not on what’s being served at the free meal.”
Here are 12 tips to help you make the most of available opportunities:
1. Commit the time. “The most common failure to capitalize on all this knowledge that I observe on farms is failing to prioritize education and setting aside the time for it,” Ferrie says. “People have good intentions, but at the last minute something else seems more important, so they don’t attend a meeting or conference.”
After you evaluate various educational offerings, plug the good ones into your pest management day planner, along with who will attend each one. “This requires communication and commitment not only from the pest boss and his team, but from every member of the operation, so team members don’t get yanked away from attending a meeting at the last minute,” Ferrie says. “If you don’t do this planning and coordination, meeting attendance will not happen.”
2. Decide what education is needed. “Inevitably, certain areas come to light where the pest boss and his team need some help,” Ferrie says. “Identify those areas during your post-harvest review. Study yield maps, and ask team members to point out problems they observed. In other words, find the weaknesses in last year’s pest management plan, and utilize education to fix them. Don’t forget to review any test plots you put out on your own farm, and see what questions they raise, such as strengths and weaknesses of new hybrids you plan to move into your lineup.”
This year, an obvious educational requirement for almost every applicator operator will be dicamba herbicide training. Ferrie notes.
3. Send team members to the appropriate meetings. “In larger operations, and with all those educational opportunities out there, the pest boss must decide who will attend which ones,” Ferrie says. “Team members who scout pests and write prescriptions, who have been delegated decision-making responsibilities, must keep up to date on their specialties.
“The pest boss can join his team members at the meetings if they wish. But the problem I often observe on farms is that, if only the pest boss attends, he must download all the information from the meeting and share it with the team. It’s better to let responsible employees gain the information first-hand and then share it with the pest boss.”
4. The closest, and cheapest, source of off-season education is local retailer meetings. “Enter these meetings with your eyes open because, after all, it is a sales meeting,” Ferrie says. “Of course a dealer will talk about the products he offers. He’ll tell you about their strengths—you ask him about their weaknesses. A good product representative will give you honest answers. Beyond that, these meetings typically cover product performance, label changes and new technology that you may want to utilize.”
5. Conference types vary and some may require an investment in time and travel. One type is a sponsored conference, underwritten by one or more companies and free to attendees. It probably will involve some sales and product promotion. “There may be multiple speakers, so you can choose the ones that fit your interests,” Ferrie says. “Look for details and results, not just yield estimates and user testimonials. Sort through the noise and use the opportunity to network and exchange information with other farmers.”
Another type of conference is organized by a college or university, a commodity association, such as the National Corn Growers Association, or a group of individuals with a common interest, such as soil health or no-till farming. These conferences typically require a registration fee and possibly a membership fee. They may include a trade show.
“These conferences usually involve systems, such as no-till or cover crops,” Ferrie says. “Expect the presentations to be more scientific or fact-based, instead of product-based.”
6. The Internet has multiplied opportunities for education. These opportunities include messages from retailers, sponsored webinars which are free to users and webinars that charge users a fee. “Some webinars are recorded, so you can view them at your leisure,” Ferrie says. “Some are interactive, allowing you to post questions for speakers to answer.”
7. Knowledge is free at university Web sites. “Winter is an ideal time to visit the Web site of your state’s land grant university, as well as those of surrounding states,” Ferrie says. “You can learn what is new in pest management and what pest problems may be expected next year. The Web sites of universities in surrounding states often can alert you to a pest problem before it reaches your own area. That was how I learned that western bean cutworm was headed our way.”
8. Enroll yourself, or your team members, in on-line pest management courses. “These courses can be very helpful,” Ferrie says. “An Internet search should turn up relevant courses.”
9. Send your team members to college. If a team member wants to work toward a college degree or become a Certified Crop Advisor, enrolling him or her in college classes could be a valuable benefit and help keep an ambitious employee loyal to your farm.
10. Ask team members from outside the farm about their educational activities. “Make sure your hired contractors are on the cutting edge,” Ferrie says.
11. Record information gathered by your team. “Everyone who attends an educational activity should take detailed notes,” Ferrie says. “If PowerPoint presentations are available, download and file them so you can refer to them next growing season.”
12. Follow up with your team members. After team members return from an educational program, spread their newfound knowledge around by having them brief you and other team members. Ask to see their notes. “If people know they’re going to have to give a briefing, they just naturally pay closer attention,” Ferrie says. “Keep the notes in the pest management file for next season.”