The Value of Pest Surveillance - Tips for Doing it on Your Farm

  Hort Snacks - April 2018
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 Each growing season problems arise that affect the health and productivity of various crops. Producers inevitably want to know what can be done about it. However, prior to correcting the problem it is critical to correctly identify the cause and quantify the problem. One of the keys to staying ahead of pest problems, be they insect, disease or weeds, is to having a firm understanding of the size and extent of the pest population. This is accomplished by making a point of watching for potential pests and then by asking many questions, with the purpose of gathering enough information to correctly understand the probable cause and then make decisions to fix the problem (or realistically reduce the problem or prevent more damage from occurring).

If something suspicious is observed, the process of diagnosing a problem is a process of elimination and can resemble peeling an onion. A series of increasingly detailed questions must be asked, with each question designed to reveal more information. The flow of questions may follow several courses, with the end result a clear grasp of all relevant factors. Failure to gather all pertinent information can lead to misdiagnosis. It is possible that information gathered in earlier questions might provide a clue to the cause of the problem. It is also possible that several factors may be related.

Scouting for potential problems should take place regularly, IN FIELD (not from the truck cab at 100 km/hr). It should be a systematic process, designed to gather information throughout the entire life cycle of the crop, across an entire field. Scouting should take place pre-seeding, pre & post-spraying and pre & post-harvest. It is also useful to be proactively aware of potential pests and scout more during periods of high risk for specific pests.

Surveillance has the purpose of trying to answer the following general questions:
1) What exactly are you dealing with?
2) When did the pests arrive or when did the symptoms manifest themselves?
3) Where are the pests in the crop?
4) How extensive is the problem? One plant? A whole row? Are there patterns?
5) How quickly is the problem spreading, if at all?
6) How established is the problem?
7) At what stage is the pest problem? In the case of insects, what life stage is showing up? In the case of weeds, what is leaf stage / size of them?

It is always handy to have a nice, comprehensive government/professional pest surveillance program in place, which covers a wide area, and has all of the necessary resources and pieces. However, these programs aren’t as common anymore. The pest problems aren’t going away, so it falls to producers to try and stay abreast of the various pest issues on the farm. There are a few simple principles that you can follow to at least take the edge off of the pest surveillance problem.

1) Assign someone specific to watch for pests – train them appropriately and then make it a part of their daily work schedule to “wander” around the entire farm, or at least in specific crops, keeping a watch out for, and a record of, specific pest problems.

2) Know which pests are likely to be problems in your crops and when they or signs/symptoms of them might show up – You can always watch the crops for anomalies and oddities, but some pests are going to be there, so have a plan for watching for them.

3) Consider using traps (pheromone or attractant) or sticky traps on the fringe of your crops to catch things that are moving in – this works well for flying insects or those insects that can be lured. Make sure the traps are checked regularly.

4) Have a marker system to indicate where pests have been found – this makes it easier to return to that spot and see what changes are occurring.

5) Keep records – This would include location information, dates, a basic indicator of the size of the population or the problem on that date, observed signs/symptoms, etc.

6) If you find something, take a few good pictures – these can be shared along with other relevant information that you collect, to help in diagnostics

7) Collect a sample – send the sample in to a diagnostic lab via your Ag fieldman or your friendly neighborhood government representative.

Surveillance doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be regular and consistent. Making your way through the crops you grow on a regular basis will help you to catch things early, which gives you a better shot at effectively managing them in the future.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on March 26, 2018.