The Importance of Scouting

From BASF: The Chemical Company Website

Whenever and wherever crops are being grown, they are always susceptible to being attacked by insects and plant pathogens. To detect potential problems many growers implement scouting programs. This article describes the importance of scouting and provides several guidelines to consider when implementing a scouting program at your facility.

Scouting essentially entails monitoring the crops, detecting the presence of any potential insect and disease problems, and determining when control strategies must be taken. Routine monitoring helps growers to identify and prevent potential outbreaks from occurring, which reduces crop damage and plant losses. 

Scouts collect up-to-date information regarding the presence of pests (primarily insects and diseases) and evaluate the effectiveness of previous pest management strategies. Scouts need to have a good understanding of plant biology, pest biology, pest life cycles, host plants, beneficial insects, injury symptoms, environmental risk factors, and control strategies. With proper training and experience, scouts can identify potential problems and provide the information necessary for making good pest management decisions.

For most crops, scouting once per week is sufficient. However, scouting should occur more frequently with high value crops, plants that are currently being attacked by insects or diseases, or when conditions are conducive for a particular pest. Scouting twice a week is a better practice, but is not practical for most growers. Crops should be monitored from the beginning of the crop cycle until they are sold.

Frequent crop monitoring allows for early detection of new insect or disease pressures which can be watched closely and allows adequate time for growers to make decisions and take the necessary actions before little problems explode into big ones. 

Some of the tools recommended for scouts include a small carrying case, hand lens, horticultural knife, plastic zipper bags, clipboard, maps of the facility, scouting forms, diagnostic clinic forms, digital camera, and a reference library. Generally speaking, these tools are inexpensive, will help scouts make the most of their time, and will lead to quicker identification and control strategies.

When scouting, examine all plant parts where each type of pest are likely to be found (Ex- look for root rot pathogens on the roots or whiteflies on the undersides of leaves). Active scouting methods involve the scout examining plant parts and the surrounding areas for the presence of insects or diseases. Passive scouting methods involve capturing the potential insect pests as they move throughout the crop. It is important to know which insects or diseases a crop is most susceptible to in order to implement the best scouting techniques into practice. Each pest enters a crop differently, which means there are different methods scouts must use to detect their presence. 

Besides random visual inspections of the crops and individual plants, scouts often use a variety of monitoring methods including counting the pest population on plant parts, taking beat samples (dislodging and detecting hard to see pests such as thrips from the plant), using traps and sticky cards, and monitoring indicator plants. 

In addition to examining the crops for various pests, scouting can be used to help growers determine the need for plant growth regulators or to verify that past applications has been effective.

The type of scouting program implemented varies widely from grower to grower. Besides detecting pest populations and making pest management decisions, routine scouting allows growers to observe the overall health and quality characteristics of the crops they are growing. Frequent observation of your crops is your best insurance that you will recognize plant problems early before they get out of hand or cause economic losses.