Pest Control Starts at Seed Selection

Hybrid-By-Hybrid Pest Control
A s seed selection for 2018 continues, make a point to include your operation’s pest boss—the person in charge of all aspects of weed, disease and insect management—in the discussions. The pest boss must know hybrids and varieties almost as well as pests and pesticides in order to plot a protective strategy for each one.

“The first steps in variety selection for next year often begin at harvesttime,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “So the pest boss and staff members in charge of variety selection must communicate from that time forward.

“While the pest boss might not actually choose hybrids, he needs to have input,” Ferrie says. “I’ve watched this process on farms, and things work better all year long if the pest boss is part of the decision team, along with the seed reps and others.”  

The pest boss’s knowledge of pest history in every field can prevent bad choices that will haunt the operation for an entire growing season and slash yield. “Say a hybrid in one field suffered moderate Goss’s Wilt damage,” Ferrie says. “The damage wasn’t bad, but the presence of the disease was noted. Knowing that, the pest boss can prevent the planting of another susceptible hybrid in that field next season. If the decision team chooses a susceptible hybrid for that field and Goss’s Wilt hits, there’s nothing the pest boss can do. Prevention must take place before Goss’s Wilt happens.”

If the pest boss is focusing on a specific weed threat, such as a new or herbicide-resistant species, he can provide input on traits being used to fight weed pressure. For example, if a farm is fighting soybean cyst nematode problems in nematode-resistant soybeans, the pest boss can alert the variety-selection team their current resistance package is not working and they need to find an alternative.

“You never want your consultant to ask, ‘Why did you plant this variety in this field when you knew you had a problem?’” Ferrie says. “Train wrecks can be prevented by getting input on hybrid and variety selections from all partners.”

Planning how to protect each hybrid and variety begins after selections have been made. “The better the pest boss prepares his plan of attack, the smoother the season will go,” Ferrie says.

Hybrids are chosen primarily for the strengths they bring to each field, such as drought tolerance, iron chlorosis tolerance or maybe early maturity for a field near the bin site where harvest will begin. During the planning phase, the pest boss must determine each hybrid or variety’s weaknesses, such as susceptibility to water molds if a hybrid is targeted for a wet field. That field will require a seed treatment.

“The first place the pest boss goes for information is his own experience with each hybrid,” Ferrie says. “Good records from past years are a powerful tool. If you don’t respect history, you are doomed to repeat it. If a hybrid had standability problems in a field three years ago, the pest boss needs to be aware of it.”

Besides experience, there are other sources of information on hybrid and variety performance:

  • On-farm hybrid plots are valuable, Ferrie says. They’re especially valuable for experimental hybrids not yet on the market, and for which you don’t yet have any on-farm history.
  • A good seed rep can be worth his or her weight in gold because some new genetics will probably be planted every year. “The seed rep might be able to put you in contact with the company’s plant breeders, which can be a big help,” Ferrie says. “If he can’t tell you, or help you find, the weaknesses for every hybrid you plant, you might need a new seed rep.”
  • Seed catalogs can be helpful if they include good ratings of hybrid and variety strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask your neighbors what they liked and disliked about the hybrids and varieties they recently planted, and how they managed them.
The pest boss must completely understand each hybrid and variety in his or her fields:

  • Is the hybrid insect-traited? For which insects? Is it single-, double- or triple-traited?
  • Does a traited hybrid need a refuge or is the refuge in the bag? If it needs a refuge, where must you plant it—in a block or every so many rows? “It’s important for your scouting crew to have this information,” Ferrie points out.   
  • Is the hybrid attractive to insects? “Some hybrids are more appealing to aphids, which are attracted by taste,” Ferrie says. “Incidentally, this also applies to deer.”
  • To which diseases is a hybrid susceptible or resistant? “Study disease ratings, if a company provides them,” Ferrie advises. “Some diseases, such as Goss’s Wilt, might not be scored. You might have to ask your seed rep to obtain information from the plant breeder. If you are fighting Goss’s Wilt, you need answers.”
  • Is a hybrid sensitive to postemergence herbicides? “If weeds escape and you have to rescue the crop, the pest boss will have to decide whether the herbicide will do more damage than the weeds,” Ferrie says.
“After you collect this information, you’ll have a hit list of weaknesses you must manage around,” Ferrie says. “For example, if a hybrid is prone to early season soil-borne diseases (at germination and during early growth), you might protect it with a seed treatment. If it’s susceptible to an early disease that is prevalent in cool, wet soils, you could use a seed treatment or plan to plant the hybrid later, after the soil has warmed up.”

If a hybrid is susceptible to midseason diseases, from pollination on, watch weather patterns, scout and be ready to treat in timely fashion if conditions warrant.
“Some hybrids’ weakness is stalk quality,” Ferrie says. “Scout those fields prior to harvest, and plan to harvest them first, if necessary.”

Green snap can become a problem with high-yielding hybrids. “With these hybrids, make sure your crop insurance policy covers green snap,” Ferrie says.

With weeds, the pest boss must understand each hybrid’s genetic resistance. “But he or she also must know which products a hybrid is sensitive to,” Ferrie says. “If it is sensitive to growth regulators, avoid growth-regulator herbicides. If you plant a refuge in a bag, you need to know the herbicide sensitivities of both hybrids. Sometimes this information is on the seed tag, and sometimes you have to ask your seed rep.”

Be aware of any hybrids that tend to be stressed by preplant or postemergence herbicides. If they are vulnerable, you might have to choose different products.
One of the first steps in implementing your pest control plan is to monitor heat units. “Keep track of heat units after planting to predict when the crop will reach a certain growth stage,” Ferrie says. “The pest boss needs to know when tassels will emerge and when pollination will begin.

Use a day planner to allocate scouting resources and prioritize scouting based on hybrid and variety weaknesses:

  • “If a hybrid’s weakness is aphids, the threat will begin two leaves before tassel emergence,” Ferrie says. “Be prepared to treat for aphids and protect those fields during pollination. If you have an on-farm weather station, you can adjust and target disease scouting based on the pace of disease development and hybrid vulnerability in each field.”
  • “Scout early in fields with hybrids that are susceptible to early season disease or insects,” Ferrie says. “If a hybrid is sensitive to post- emergence herbicides, scouts need to monitor both weed and crop height.”
  • “Some hybrids add most of their yield during the late grain-fill period,” Ferrie explains. “Those hybrids typically show a stronger response to fungicide applications. So you might base treatment decisions more on a history of response than to threshold levels of disease.”
  • Standability is a weakness in some hybrids. “As the growing season ends, scout those fields for stalk quality,” Ferrie says. “You might want to harvest them early, based more on stalk quality rather than on grain moisture content.”
  • As you treat for pest problems, be aware of label restrictions such as plant height, crop rotation and harvest interval, as well as interactions between products.
With today’s hybrids and varieties possessing multiple traits and characteristics, planning pest control around weaknesses is a complicated task, Ferrie acknowledges. But it’s a sure route to fewer pest management train wrecks and greater profitability. 

Records Provide Pest Control Edge

The more records the better when you design pest control programs around hybrid and variety weaknesses. As the adjacent story points out, recording hybrids/varieties, control measures and outcomes for every field will help you plan effective control programs in the future.

“You need records, including the date of application, in case of liability issues or product failure,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “You also need good records in order to rotate products and prevent pest resistance from building up.”

The need for records must be understood by every member of the pest control team, whether they are employed by the farm or come from outside suppliers. “Every treatment must be recorded in a spray log,” he says, “including the product, carrier, surfactant and rate.

“All this information must reach the pest boss. He needs to supplement with his own notes, and maybe pictures, about treatment outcomes—what worked and what didn’t. He also should record the cost of each treatment because there might be another way to get the desired result,” Ferrie adds.

Keep Your Pest Control Team Talking

Building pest control around hybrid and variety weaknesses means numerous control measures will probably be necessary.

“One of the most crucial elements of successful pest management is communication among all team members,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “That includes planter, sprayer and combine operators, suppliers, the pest boss, scouts and everyone involved with producing the crop.

“When I see pest management failures on farms, they usually can be traced to a lack of communication, which usually occurs because cropping plans were changed,” Ferrie says. “Mother Nature sometimes forces us to call audibles at the line of scrimmage; but if the person running the planter switches from a GMO variety to a non-GMO that’s a recipe for disaster if the person running the sprayer doesn’t know about it.”

Posting information on a workboard or sending an email to the pest team might be sufficient. Technology can also be helpful. “Besides smartphones and tablets, we can use GPS or LoJack technology to make sure equipment is in the right field,” Ferrie says. “With telekinetics, machines can talk to each other and store information on the cloud. That lets the pest boss see what’s happening in real time, which helps prevent mistakes.”


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