Just think how much easier farming would be if pest threats never changed. Unfortunately, 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-round process.
Think of the process as continuing education. “Fortunately, there are numerous sources of knowledge available to the pest boss and his team members,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “The key is making education, and sharing 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 have time to attend,” 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. “In terms of pest management, many operations fail to prioritize and set aside time for education,” Ferrie says. “People have good intentions, but at the last minute something else comes up that seems more important, so they don’t attend a meeting or conference.”
After you evaluate various educational opportunities, plug the most beneficial ones into your pest management day planner, along with who will attend each one.
“This requires communication and commitment from the pest boss, the pest team and 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 plan and coordinate, follow-through won’t happen.”
2. Focus educational efforts on addressing weaknesses. “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 the previous year’s pest management plan and use education to fix them. Don’t forget to review any test plots on your 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 will be dicamba herbicide training, Ferrie notes.
3. Send appropriate team members to meetings. “In larger operations, and with numerous educational opportunities available, the pest boss must decide who will attend which ones,” Ferrie says. “Team members who have decision-making responsibilities, such as scouting and writing prescriptions, must keep up to date.
“The pest boss can join his team members at the meetings if he wishes. However, the problem I often observe is, if only the pest boss attends, he must download all the information from the meeting and share it with his team. It’s better to let responsible employees hear and learn 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. “Attend these meetings with your eyes open because, after all, they are sales meetings,” Ferrie says. “Of course, a dealer will talk about the products he offers. He’ll tell you about their strengths—and you should ask him about their weaknesses. A good product representative will give you honest answers. Beyond that, retailer meetings typically cover product performance, label changes and new technology you might want to consider using.”
5. Types of conferences vary and some might require an investment in time and travel. Sponsored conferences are underwritten by one or more companies and free to attendees. They probably will involve some sales and product promotion.
“There might 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 might 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 that 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 websites. “Winter is an ideal time to visit the website 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 might be expected next year. The websites of universities in surrounding states often can alert you to a pest problem before it reaches your own area. That was how I learned western bean cutworm was headed our way.”
8. Enroll yourself, or team members, in online pest management courses. “These courses can be very helpful,” Ferrie says. “An internet search will turn up relevant courses.”
9. Send team members to college. If a team member wants to work toward a college degree or become a Certified Crop Adviser, enrolling him or her in college classes could be beneficial and help keep an ambitious employee loyal to your farm.
10. Ask any off-farm pest team members about their educational activities. “Make sure your hired contractors are on the cutting edge,” Ferrie says.
11. Record information shared at meetings. “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 the information during the growing season.”
12. Follow up with your team members. After someone returns from an educational program, spread their newfound knowledge by having them brief you and other team members on the highlights. Ask to see their notes and any handouts.
“If people know they’re going to have to give a briefing, they naturally pay closer attention,” Ferrie says. “Keep the notes in the pest management file so they’re easy to access when needed.”