Top Crop Manager

Features Agronomy Soybeans
Scouting taking on a newer, higher profile

More reasons getting more growers to 'do it'.


November 13, 2007
By Ralph Pearce


Topics

36aAlthough growers spent much of 2005 worrying about Asian soybean rust, soybean
aphids and soybean cyst nematode, a silver lining has emerged. The more concerned
growers became about the effects of disease and insects, the more acres were
scouted.

Heading into 2005, growers heard plenty about the potential for Asian soybean
rust. While the disease never materialized north of Tennessee, fear of what
it could do was enough to get growers walking their fields or to consider hiring
a professional.

Along the way, reports of overwintering soybean aphids helped change the mind-set
that aphids were a problem only in alternating years. Finally, in the ongoing
search of fields, more growers found they had soybean cyst nematode, with some
surprisingly high concentrations discovered to the north, in Bruce County and
east into Brant.

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A change in the fields
The resulting migration into the fields has been music to the ears of company
agronomists and independent crop advisors. "I think a lot of guys have
started to take ownership in their crop, saying, 'This is my crop, I need to
do something with it to keep it going'," says Clare Kinlin, field agronomist
with Syngenta Seeds Canada. He adds the days when growers were content to simply
plant and harvest a crop are fading. They are recognizing the value potential
and the little things they can do to optimize their return. "It's surprising
how many growers are doing it on their own, as opposed to waiting for someone
else to initiate it, and the growers who are successful scouts have their own
routine, and it works."

According to Kinlin, the overall numbers may be low, about 40 percent by his
estimates, but most of the large-scale, business-oriented growers understand
the value of getting out of their trucks or at least hiring a professional to
do the job. One of the advantages he sees to hiring a third party individual
is the lack of emotional attachment that often hinders a grower's own judgement.
"It's the exact same thing with marketing, and since I'm not emotionally
attached to your crop, I can market it at a profit, and not feel bad about it,"
explains Kinlin. He concedes growers may not always listen to his recommendations,
but the level of trust that develops from the resulting relationships has a
value all its own.

Merging costs with time constraints
Brian Woolley is another company representative who sees the value of scouting
being measured against other economic pressures. "Commodity prices have
fluctuated up and down, and nobody has any control over that for the most part,
but input prices have gone nowhere but up," says Woolley, a territory sales
manager for Bayer CropScience. He echoes Kinlin's statements about there being
more to farming than just planting and harvesting. He cites a wealth of information
growers have access to, from conference presentations and field demonstrations
to government resources and editorial content from publications and web sites;
but it goes beyond issues like timing of weed control. "You can tell from
the road whether you have a clean, weed-free soybean field at the end of the
season, but there's much more to it, and growers are becoming more aware of
that."

Besides which, Woolley believes growers have a fairly good understanding of
weed control issues and their impact. But limited exposure and familiarity with
thresholds for disease or insect pests make scouting an increasing necessity.
If time to personally scout is scarce, then hiring a professional becomes more
of a necessity. "It'd be in the best interests to pay those few dollars
per acre," says Woolley, conceding it is not always easy for a grower to
do the job effectively. "If they can't then there's a definite payback
to hiring that person on a per acre basis to help them decide whether it makes
sense to spend $15 to $20 an acre on an aphid or mite or rust spray."

Premium markets benefit
One aspect where scouting offers a more obvious return on investment is in managing
identity preserved (IP) crops. Dave Templeman, assistant manager with Thompsons
in Granton, Ontario, acknowledges there is a definite value to scouting, by
the grower or a third-party professional. In those cases where Thompsons is
called into scout, Templeman says having that first-case exposure is a valuable
tool for other growers in their value chain. "We're out scouting every
day, and even if it's not in your area, if there are reports of aphids or other
pests, the word is getting out to start looking," explains Templeman. "It's
creating awareness, and if we hear about these developments and start looking
at some fields, we'll tell growers to get them started in their own fields."

Like Kinlin, Templeman suggests the larger the operation, the more likely the
grower is doing his own scouting or hiring someone else. "If you did a
survey of these large growers, the majority of them are paying to have their
fields scouted, because they know the value," says Templeman, adding that
in his opinion, the numbers doing effective scouting are up. "There's still
that percentage of farmers that aren't scouting, and probably won't, and hopefully
we can help them with that, but unless they call us and ask us to come out,
we may not be able to help." In the long run, the growers who do not scout
may do more damage, long-term, than the ones who do.

A little knowledge can be dangerous
Looking back on 2005 or perhaps 2001 for its aphid infestation, one question
arises: Is there an increase in the incidence of certain diseases or weed shifts
or insect pests, or is the industry becoming more attuned to what is in the
fields? Nick Stokman asks this question, in spite of all he has encountered
with respect to scouting. "From the people I'm associated with, we're more
aware, we're probably out in the field more than we used to be," says Stokman,
a grower from Strathroy, Ontario. He agrees SCN's incidence appears to be on
the rise, in locations previously unseen and in higher concentrations. "But
it's possible we just never noticed it before."

For Stokman, the concern is understanding that more scouting leads to more
information gathered, and on one hand, that can be a help. On the other, it
can be challenge to sift through so much detail, often with just as many options
from which to choose. "Scouting is advantageous, but sometimes the more
knowledge you have, the more difficult it becomes to say, 'this is the right
thing to do'," says Stokman. He points to physiological fleck in wheat
or sudden death syndrome in soybeans: years ago, these were the default conditions
when the list of diagnoses was not as extensive. Today growers have more specific
causes that can result in poor emergence or weakened stands. "You need
a certain amount of information to make decisions, but sometimes you don't know
exactly what information is important at that particular time."

In that sense, Stokman believes gathering information through scouting should
be followed closely by choosing the best course of action, based on available
details. Scouting can provide the information: knowing what to do with it in
a timely fashion and with the greatest efficiency may be the next step in the
overall picture. -30-

 


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