Field notes are the magic sauce of field scouting

  • IPM continues to be the best method for pest and disease management that balances crop growth with healthy ecosystems
  • Field scouting without recording field notes is like taking a picture with no film in the camera
  • Digital tools can increase the practice of recording field notes

 

Since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago, man has searched for an effective way to counter the threat of pests, diseases, and weeds to his harvest.  Crushing locusts by hand in 3rd Century China, smoke to control mildews in Greco-Roman times, and even folk magic to dispel negative spirits have all been part of man’s arsenal.

The post-World War II era brought with it the ultimate weapon – chemical pesticides.  These pesticides were estimated to provide a marginal value increase of $3 to $4 for every $1 spent on the new chemicals.1  In-field success fueled a pesticide craze, with total pesticide production increasing from 100,000 million pounds in 1945 to 300,000 million pounds by 1950 and 10,000 new pesticides registered by the

Spraying apples in the 1940s (Source: Virginia Tech)

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) between 1947 and 1952.  As growers abandoned other forms of pest and disease management, the Golden Age of chemical pesticides had arrived.

 

But this enthusiasm turned into concern as we began to understand the true price of these chemicals.  While chemical pesticides did reduce crop loss, their unmitigated use also created pesticide resistance, contaminated the environment, and damaged public health.

In the 1960s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was introduced as a way to “right the ship,” positioning chemical pesticides as but another tool in the growers’ arsenal and not a silver bullet as growers had been led to believe.  Chemical control combined with biological, cultural, and operational controls was the right way to maximize crop yield with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems.

Field scouting (Source: Farm Dog)

IPM begins with field scouting, the process of traveling through a field and looking for pest and disease, determining the outbreak severity level, and then deciding on the proper treatment.  A closer look at scouting practices suggests there are indeed potential gains for growers.  However, these gains are realized primarily by those growers whom optimize the scouting process.

 

 

Comparing the percentage of operations that “scouted for disease” with yield losses from disease in corn shows no discernible relationship between the two.2,3,4

However, a comparison of the percentage of growers who keep written or electronic records of their field scouting does show a negative relationship with yield loss.  In other words, as the percentage of growers who take notes increases, crop loss decreases.

 

The numbers do not explain why this is the case, but arguments could be made for:

  1. Psychological benefits: Recording observations inherently forces the scout to do a more thorough job, whether due to increased concentration or the knowledge that the scout’s work may be reviewed by somebody in the future.
  2. Analytical benefits: A written record allows a scout to review, among others, the history of the field and provide a better recommendation. Easily reviewing what worked and what did not in the past drives improved future decisions.
  3. Communication benefits: Written records are much easier to communicate between stakeholders in the fields’ health – whether scout to grower, grower employee to grower employee, or scout to scout. With better communication, teams can together arrive at a better decision.

Each person has his or her own reasons, but a clear benefit to the bottom line in terms of increased yields is observed.

If this is the case, why is collecting field notes not more prevalent during scouting?  Reasons cited by growers to Farm Dog include:

  1. Carrying around a notebook in the field is cumbersome
  2. Phone apps are unreliable or too difficult to use
  3. Difficulty in turning field notes into insights

Our team set out to develop a new platform designed to answer all of these common complaints.  Working together with leading agronomists and growers in the United States and Israel, Farm Dog’s field scouting platform enables users to:

  1. Easily record field data such as pest type, severity level, photographs, and geo-markers;
  2. Send field notes to other stakeholders directly and automatically from the field;
  3. Review field history and field treatment efficacy in order to arrive at improved treatment decisions.

James Thomas, who has over 35 years in the field, has tried several times to find and use a program that helps him organize scouting activities and records.  “Most other programs while designed with good features often lacked the usability in field and office.  Farm Dog though has found a way to do that…We need simple efficient solutions on this end.  Farm Dog certainly offers that.”

To take into account regular working condition on farms, we have ensured ease and effectiveness of the application, whether offline and online, in the hot sun, and with dirty, smudgy fingers.  If you’re curious to test a new scouting process that helps you save time in the field and increase yields, visit www.farmdog.ag to get started.

 

(1) JC Headley (1968); California Agricultural Experiment Station (1969); Strickland A.H. (1970).

(2) Note that data on yield loss is incredibly rare, especially across multiple geographies.  Combined with the need to compare to scouting practice data, and the data set becomes limited to loss from corn diseases from 2012-2015 and scouting data from 2014 and 2016.  This comparison uses total yield loss percentage across 2012 to 2015 and average of replies to questions about scouting practices from 2014 and 2016.

(3) Mueller, Daren & Wise, Kiersten & J. Sisson, Adam & Allen, T & Bergstrom, Gary & Bruce Bosley, D & Bradley, Carl & Broders, Kirk & Byamukama, Emmanuel & Chilvers, Martin & Collins, Alyssa & R. Faske, Travis & Friskop, Andrew & W. Heiniger, Ron & Hollier, Clayton & Hooker, David & Isakeit, Tom & Jackson-Ziems, Tamra & Jardine, Douglas & Warner, Fred. (2016). Corn Yield Loss Estimates Due to Diseases in the United States and Ontario, Canada from 2012 to 2015. Plant Health Progress. 17. . 10.1094/PHP-RS-16-0030.

(4) National Agricultural Statistics Service – United States Department of Agriculture. 2014 and 2016 Corn Agricultural Chemical Use Program surveys.

 

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