Ready, Set, Spray

Answer these questions to help ensure you’re ready to treat pests in a timely fashion
If successful pest control constitutes a run scored, the four bases you have to touch are time, equipment, people and products. Now is the window to sit down with team members and make sure all bases are covered to ensure timely applications.

Start by calling up your pest management day planner to make sure sufficient man-hours will be available during crunch times when scouting, spraying and other tasks are going on at once. Next, review your implementation plan for managing all threats.

Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie suggests asking the following 10 questions. “If your pest management plan doesn’t contain the answers, find the information you need and plug it into your plan,” he advises.

1. Have I accounted for planned and unplanned applications? Pest control plans fall naturally into planned treatments, such as weeds, which occur every year, and reactive applications, for insects and diseases that show up only occasionally.

2. Do I have enough resources to apply planned treatments in a timely manner? “Your plan must include who will apply each treatment,’” Ferrie says. “Will it be a member of your pest control team, a retailer or a contractor? Does your day planner show enough time and people available on the days when you will need to make the applications?”

One bottleneck occurs when no-till farmers use burndown herbicides in the fall, winter and early spring. Often, the equipment is available, but the farm’s employees are tied up with harvest, for example, in the fall. “If your day planner reveals there’s no driver for your applicator, you’re going to have to delegate to a retailer or custom applicator,” Ferrie says.

3. Can my on-farm team, retailer or custom applicator meet my application needs at planting time? Because of evolving planting practices, this is not something you can take for granted.

“More growers have gone to early planted soybeans,” Ferrie says. “If you’re planting two crops at the same time, you might find yourself short sprayer operators. Some retailers will not apply soybean herbicides early in the season—when they’re busy with corn they don’t want to shift equipment and drivers between crops.

“Make sure your retailer understands you need both jobs done at the same time,” Ferrie adds. “You may even want both crops sprayed on the same day.”

While running multiple planters and planting soybeans before corn adds another wrinkle, JW Thomas, field sales agronomist with Landus Cooperative, Perry, Iowa, says it can be managed with communication.

“It’s about communicating early about the plan. Talking about plans in December rather than April eases the springtime pressure,” Thomas says. “It’s about staying up to date with the farmer’s operation.”

If you forgot or haven’t had that discussion, do it now, Ferrie says.

4. How many acres can my team spray per day? “Know the limitations of your team,” Ferrie says. “How many acres a day can your people and equipment treat? The clock might not be the limiting factor. Some pesticides, such as post-emergence herbicides, can only be applied during daylight hours for maximum effectiveness. To determine your capacity, multiply the acres per hour your equipment can cover by the hours per day you will be able to spray.”

5. Have I allowed for the effect of weather? “Realistically evaluate how many days will work for pesticide application,” Ferrie says. “If you need 14 days to cover all your acres, you probably won’t get that many days without rain or wind. How many days per week can you typically operate?”

Factor in the window of control for each pest, especially weeds. “If you need 14 days to treat all your acres with a post-emergence herbicide, you can only spray a product during daylight, weeds are growing ½" to 1" per day, the height limit is 5" and you lose days because of wet and windy weather, allowing 14 days for that application is not realistic,” Ferrie says. “You need to hire out some spraying or change products, perhaps going to more pre-emergence herbicides.”

6. Have I prepared backup plans? “It’s about having a plan but being able to adapt when the weather throws something at you,” Thomas says.

To plan for the worst and hope for the best, Ferrie shares this example: Under Plan A, things go well and your on-farm team applies the herbicide. Under Plan B, a retailer or contractor takes up some of the slack. Under Plan C, a retailer, or maybe more than one, does all the spraying.

“Talk to your retailer now, about his role in Plans B and C, so he also can plan,” Ferrie says. “Plan how you will shift on-farm labor as you move from one plan to the next.”

7. Is my plan complete? “All team members, on- and off-farm, must be able to look at your plan and understand what pre-emergence products will be needed, as well as the rates, carriers, label restrictions and buffer requirements, if any,” Ferrie says. “When the time comes to treat, they can just look at the plan and get on with the job and not be delayed searching for information. The products you will need should already be stored on the farm or at your dealer.”

8. Have I addressed problems from previous years? “Scouts can alert us to weeds, and we know how fast the weeds will grow based on heat units,” Ferrie says. “So we should be able to apply planned herbicides on time.”

If you always have difficulty treating weeds before they get too big, Ferrie suggests analyzing your team. Are your scouts finding weeds in time? Do you need more applicator operators or bigger machines? Is your custom applicator underpowered or unable to reach fields on time? “Occasional problems caused by weather are to be expected, but if timely application is always a problem, you need to change something,” he says.

9. Am I ready for the unexpected? Reactive treatments involve pests that don’t occur every year, but for which you always must be prepared. “Most of these problems arise when nature tips the balance in favor of the pest,” Ferrie says.

“Some reactive situations become somewhat routine if you pay attention to environmental conditions,” Ferrie says. “For example, spider mites occur during long dry periods. With cutworms, moths must fly in, find habitat and get the right amount of heat units to develop. There’s no excuse to be caught by surprise.”

Pests like these might only become a problem every three to five years, Ferrie says, but you still need a contingency plan on file. If your scouts find a pest, just consult your plan to see what products you’ve selected and how you will implement your attack.

“With reactive situations, you usually see evidence the pest is building up,” Ferrie adds. “That gives operators time to get their sprayers ready.”

But some threats are not so predictable. “Japanese beetles come from nowhere,” Ferrie says. “Some diseases and insects, such as army worms, migrate from nearby fields. Rootworms might show up in corn if pumpkins, which are a host crop, are nearby.

“Pay attention to scouting reports from seed companies, retailers and land-grant universities in your own and surrounding states,” Ferrie says. “Use sticky traps and pheromone traps.

“Know what crops are planted in nearby fields. If your neighbor’s field of fully-traited corn goes down because of resistant rootworms, you can expect those resistant rootworms to spill over into your field. This also will happen with resistant weeds.”

10. Who will make treatment decisions? “Timeliness and control are sacrificed, and the value of a pest boss and his management team is lost if the pest boss is not empowered to pull the trigger,” Ferrie says. “People not involved with the pest management team—including farm managers and landowners—cannot be involved in treatment decisions.”

When it comes time to make treatment decisions, there’s no room for emotion. Ferrie reminds farmers to make treatment decisions from actual pest numbers and scientific thresholds. “The plan you set in place will enable you to do that.” 

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