Time to Choose Your Pest Boss

June 24, 2017 02:23 AM

Designating one person to keep an eye on crop conditions can pay big dividends

It’s common to divvy up responsibilities on the farm. One person might handle machinery and maintenance while another is in charge of planting and a third heads up marketing. Does your farm have someone who takes the lead on pest management? 

“When an operation assigns a pest boss, and he or she understands the role, the results can be impressive,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “On the other hand, I’ve seen operations experience expensive hiccups, often from a lack of coordination. While problems can arise in any area of management, some of the most costly occur in pest management.”

Now is as good a time as any to designate a pest boss to help protect bushels and take your crop to the 
finish line. The job doesn’t end at harvest, though—the offseason is a great time to tap into educational opportunities and resources.

What is a pest boss? “In pest management, all decisions must come under one command to make sure nothing is overlooked,” Ferrie says. “The pest boss needs to be an employee of the farm, although individual duties can and should be delegated to others because pest management is too large a discipline for one person to know everything.”

As the defender against attacks from any direction, the pest boss monitors weeds, insects and diseases, which can show up in the soil or on the plant, on the leaves or on the grain and in the field or in the bin. The pest boss also must consider beneficial organisms, Ferrie adds. 

“A degree in biology isn’t necessary,” he says. “Instead, a pest boss needs to know how to find and use the information that’s out there and have it fingertip-close. He or she needs to concentrate efforts on pests in the farm’s geographic area.”

A duty of the pest boss is to assemble and supervise a pest management team. The team can include people from inside and outside the operation. “Team members report to the pest boss and keep him or her in the loop on decisions,” Ferrie says. “The pest boss then follows up to make sure all actions are carried out.”

Follow-up is key. “For example, the pest boss tells a retailer to apply a certain pesticide. The retailer sprays the pesticide and tells someone else in the operation when he’s done. That information doesn’t get relayed to the pest boss, which could cause a problem if someone enters the field before the 
re-entry interval has passed,” he adds.

In addition to building a team, a pest boss should assemble the tools. “Technology has given us many new tools, which has changed how we implement scouting, Ferrie says. “We no longer waste time wandering around a field searching for threats. Instead, we use aerial imagery to tell us where to look. Technology might be as complicated as setting up a monitoring station and interpreting aerial photographs or as simple as trapping insects.”

The pest boss should allocate time to manage the operation’s susceptibilities and weaknesses. “For example, if you’ve had trouble managing weeds, and nobody in the operation has a handle on available chemistries and how to apply them, that’s a weakness,” Ferrie says. “The pest boss must train someone or delegate the responsibility outside the operation.

“Even the best early planning won’t solve a pest problem if a treatment is applied too late,” Ferrie adds. “For example, if an operation’s weakness is that it can only spray 300 acres per day and they need to spray 3,000 acres in two or three days, the pest boss must recognize that weakness and come up with a different plan.”

Authority to act often is a neglected issue. “I’ve seen situations where the pest boss recognized a threat and was ready to respond, but another person in the operation, who controlled the purse strings, decided to wait to see what other farmers were doing,” Ferrie says. “The decision to treat didn’t get made for three or four days and the damage was done. When a pest boss is functioning properly, he usually treats a problem before other farmers in the area react to it.”

Understanding the threats to your crops, and not repeating mistakes, requires good records. “Keeping records throughout the season enables a pest boss to look back and know exactly what was done on each field.” Ferrie says. “Take photos to document threats and save them. You might want to go back a year later, or several years later, to see what threat occurred and what ultimately happened. Good records save you from reinventing the wheel when a threat shows up.”

The role of pest boss is a year-round job. Evolving threats make education imperative. “For example, a new disease, bacterial leaf streak, is showing up,” Ferrie says. “Last year was the first time it was found in the U.S. Another new one is tar spot. New herbicide-resistant weeds are developing every season. 

“Just because the growing season clock isn’t running, don’t stop thinking about pests,” Ferrie emphasizes. “The offseason can be a productive time to pick up information.” 

Evaluate how changes in the farm operation affect pest management and create appropriate strategies. “The pest boss must be involved in farm meetings, so he can interpret what each change means for him and his team,” Ferrie says. “For example, with tightening profit margins and the cost of seed, some farms are moving away from using GMO-traited seed to manage insects. Thanks to traited seed corn, we haven’t seen many corn borers for 10 or 15 years, but now we’re seeing a resurgence of borer numbers. Some younger farmers don’t know how to recognize the symptoms—moths flying in May and June and depositing eggs on the bottom leaves of corn plants. A pest boss must be aware that his operation has switched to susceptible hybrids, so he can develop a scouting protocol and make plans to set insect traps.”

It’s the same situation with rootworms, Ferrie adds. Some farmers have shifted away from resistant traits and rootworm insecticide applications because of cost. If rootworms cause damage, there’s no rescue treatment. This summer, dig roots and document problems to plan how to treat fields in the future.

Be observant. “Pay attention to the environment during the growing season for a good indication of threats,” Ferrie says. “If it’s hot and dry, the pest boss will be ready to treat spider mites. If it’s wet and humid, he can watch for leaf diseases. Because one of the most important times in the life of a corn plant is pollination, the pest boss will have his team in place (and not all on vacation), ready to scout for silk clippers such as rootworm beetles and Japanese beetles.”


Agronomic Tools to Survive and Thrive In These Challenging Economic Times

July 25–26, 2017  
Heyworth, Ill.

You can cover up many flaws in a farming operation during high profit times, but tight margins call for more attention to detail. Learn how to work smarter, create efficiencies and determine your return on investment from Ken Ferrie and his team at this two-day event that covers corn and soybeans. 

To register and see a detailed agenda, visit www.FarmJournalCollege.com




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