Early Season Scouting Kicks Off for the Corn Belt
With all of the attention given to planting, it’s easy to forget that planting is just the beginning of a season of care and attention that farmers give to their crops. Summer vacation is not really top of mind for farmers at this time of year.
“A crop is a huge investment, that farmers often have borrowed against to finance, so keeping a good eye on it as it grows is extremely important,” says Bayer Technical Service Representative Mike Weber. As agronomists, Mike, and fellow Technical Service Rep David Lamore explain that scouting a crop early and often is a key practice that farmers use to make decisions during the growing season.
We caught up with a few reps to ask what advice they’d give farmers in their regions to protect crops this summer.
First, I understand that rain has hampered planting in the eastern corn belt, while the western corn belt is more on target. Can you tell us more about how the planting season is shaping up in those two areas?
As an agronomist with Bayer, Dave Lamore says his role is an information conduit. “We take results from research and share it with sales, retail, university, consultants and the public,” he says. In the above photo, Dave explains the value of early season disease control on soybeans. By managing Septoria early, soybean plants will keep more viable nodes on the plant and maximize yield potential. (Photo by Bayer’s Kevin Register.)
Dave Lamore: “In my role with Bayer, I cover Ohio and Michigan. Planting in my part of the world is really just starting to get rolling. It has been a little wet. As of two weeks ago, I had yet to plant the first seed. With a week of dry weather, most corn and soybeans will get planted. And with the warm temperatures, crop emergence and development will be very rapid.”
Mike Weber: “As a Tech Service Rep, I serve the North Iowa district. We have been blessed in Iowa this year; I’m calling us the ‘sandwich state.’ If you look to our east – Illinois, Indiana and Ohio are extremely wet or were wet for a long time. And then, if you look to the west – Nebraska, Kansas and those areas, they were wet too. In Iowa, we had ideal planting conditions for about three or four weeks. Guys would start planting, and they would get a little rainfall, but able to get back in the field right away within about two or three days. The rest of the Midwest during that four-week period, from about the third week of April through about mid-May, was completely shut down, no tires running at all. In Iowa, at least we were able to get some planting done. Right now, our corn planting is virtually complete. And our soybeans are about 85 percent finished.”
Mike, in your area, where planting is wrapping up, what is the first focus for a farmer after planting?
Mike Weber: “The most important thing is getting the corn up out of the ground. For example, there are going to be some areas within the Midwest that are probably going to have to replant their first crop of corn because of too much rain, or a poor stand that didn’t come up very well, or compacted soils that didn’t allow the corn to emerge. So scouting is very important at this time. In general, you want to visit your field every two or three days. Go to different areas throughout the field, get your hands dirty, or muddy, depending on what conditions are out there. Before that plant comes up out of the ground, you’re going to have to dig to figure out what’s happening with it, or if there are any problems happening with it before it emerges. So that’s the first stage of scouting. It’s very, very important. You have to make sure that you have good stalk establishment.”
Mike Weber examines the root system of a corn plant growing at his research farm, looking for fungi and the health of the root system overall.
What are growers most worried about when they do this first scouting?
Mike Weber: “Before the seed comes up through the soil, you’re worried about fungi or pathogens. At Bayer, that’s the reason why seed treatments are so important for a corn grower. Seed treatments provide corn crop protection for about three weeks from fungi. Their job is to get that corn plant up out of the ground so it’s got a healthy root system. Farmers are true believers in seed treatments, which is a good thing, but it’s still important to scout a field early on.”
How do you scout a field?
Dave Lamore: “First of all, to scout a field, you have to get out of your truck. You can’t scout by the windshield as you’re driving by. Also, you are naturally attracted to the poor areas of the field. While it is important to check them out to look for issues, a more holistic view of a field needs to be considered in the overall evaluation. Farmers are focused on the big picture, rather than just a quick look at end rows and overlap areas. Also, scouting is a continual thing, especially early in the season, so that small problems don’t become big ones. When the crop is small, there is still time to correct problems.”
Drones are becoming increasingly popular in many tasks. Tell me about the role of drones in scouting? Does Bayer use drones?
Dave Lamore: “Drones can be a useful tool in getting a bird’s eye view that may show patterns in a field you cannot see from the ground. Drones do not replace ground scouting the issues that are out there. Currently they can’t identify a weed, bug, or disease from the air. That takes a person on the ground. Drones can help improve scouting efficiency by narrowing down key areas to investigate. Right now only private users are allowed to fly drones over their farms. Commercial uses require a pilot’s license and considerable training. Once the regulations are finally approved, more everyday use will become common.”
Once plants have emerged, do farmers still have to scout their crops?
Mike Weber: “Yes, once the plant emerges, it’s still very important to scout. Again, my general rule of thumb is every three days. Basically, I look at it like a pie chart divided into three-week sections for scouting. The first three weeks, as I’ve mentioned, farmers are making sure that they get their crop up out of the ground. The next three weeks after that is an important phase, making sure insects aren’t nibbling on my valuable corn, either below ground or above ground. Examples of insects below ground are grubs or wireworms. Then, above ground would be black cutworm. A cutworm is basically a worm that hops from plant to plant and will saw off that corn plant, which is not a good thing. Hence the name, cutworm. So it’s very important to make sure that you’re doing proper scouting.”
Wireworms tunnel into the root systems of young corn plants.
“The final phase then is all about weeds. Am I controlling my weeds? Do I have resistant weeds? How clean are my fields? Anytime that you have any other plant out there other than the actual crop that you planted is a bad thing. Because anything growing out in that field with the crop is essentially competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight – three of the most important things for a plant to grow.”
How does scouting help farmers to be good stewards of their land?
Dave Lamore: “Scouting is an important form of data transfer. The plants can tell you what they may be lacking, or have too much of. Plants are indicators of soil health and can help a farmer better steward the soil. Soil itself is a living thing that also is the most important input into crop production. Farmers use scouting as part of integrated pest management (IPM) to ensure the long-term productivity of their cropping systems. To maintain and improve production, it is necessary to keep as much diversity in the cropping system as possible. Diversity includes only doing what is needed and often doing nothing at all. Knowing your target pest and the potential economic impact of multiple pests in a crop is important. Growers are very conscientious about the products they use and the return on investment they receive in return. ”
Mike Weber: “Farmers keep their ears to the ground, networking within their connections – neighbors, other farmers, agronomists, university experts and others – so that they know, for example, when a particular insect may be popping up in their area. Using that information makes them extra alert when they’re scouting their fields, and using an integrated pest management program, so that if the bugs are at high enough levels, then spraying an insecticide will help protect their crop and their yield. Scouting is so important, because why in the world would you want to go out and spend extra money (on crop inputs) if you didn’t have to? A farmer is absolutely amazing with the decisions that they’re able to make under so much financial pressure – not to mention the unpredictable pressure from Mother Nature. Almost every day, they’re playing the slots, so to speak.”
Mike Weber does growing point management for water hemp weed control. For herbicide applications to be effective, all of the various growing points of the weed must receive coverage.