Watters often returns to the same pre-set field spots weekly. He emphasizes getting into the middle of a field, in particular to check for sudden death syndrome in soybeans. As the season progresses, he fans out over four to five rows. In mid- to late-season corn fields, he suggests entering a field, returning to end rows for a distance and then reentering the field and repeating the process.

What to look for and where is also important. Western bean cutworms lay egg masses on upper leaves around tasseling, and grey leaf spot appears on lower leaves about then, Watters says. "The egg masses show up as you look at sunlight passing through the leaves. Use the tools that nature gave you, light and time of day."

Watters emphasizes other tools like a hand lens, soil probe and field guides. He uses the soil probe for checking compaction; the field guide provides ID and threshold recommendations. He uses the Ohio State and Purdue field guides, plus PDFs of online weed and agronomy guides on his smartphone and iPad.

 

Read about more apps for your smartphone that help your farm operation.

 

Extension specialists like Watters and Potter have alert networks for neighboring counties, regions or states. Helping growers focus on emerging problems is one of the benefits of field plot programs, says Wolf.

"We hold field days at 30-day intervals in June, July and August and review current 'events' that growers should be looking for over the next 30 days," he says. "We also encourage them to bring questions and samples from their fields to field days. After a brief hiatus in popularity, scouting for rootworm beetles is making a comeback because of western corn rootworm resistance to BT in my area.”

Wolf says Answer Plot attendees were among the first to learn how to identify and count soybean aphids and, more recently, to evaluate hybrid susceptibility to Goss's Wilt.In recent years, corn rootworm trait failure has been a growing concern, with emphasis on identifying economic thresholds of beetles, digging up roots and scoring damage as well as learning how to manage corn rootworm the following year. Field days through the season show growers see how scouting techniques like tissue sampling can help identify nutrient deficiency. Thirty or 60 days later they can see how a foliar application impacted the plot and eventual yield.

Potter emphasizes that it doesn't matter whether growers scout their fields themselves or rely on someone else. The important thing is to scout fields early and often throughout the crop year.

"There are two reasons for scouting. One is to figure out what needs to be done this year or next. The second is to determine if what you did worked, how well and record it. Long-term records of the crop, pest populations and any management practices are vital to prevent economic loss and delay resistance," Potter says.

Scouting isn’t for every farmer; Len Nall, Lake City, Ark., leaves scouting to his crop consultant. With 3,500 acres of corn, 1,500 of soybeans, 6,000 of cotton and 650 acres in beans and rice, he has his hands full without trying to visit fields weekly. Instead, he relies on David Hydrick to scout fields and make recommendations.

"Once we let him know we are planting corn, David starts scouting," says Nall. "David is our go-to-guy on pesticides. He emails his scouting reports with recommendations, and we turn them into application orders. If he's watching for something, he gives us a heads up in the report. If we have problems or questions, we give him a call."

 

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