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5 steps for successful pest management

Eddie Funderburg for Progressive Forage Published on 31 March 2020
Spraying for insects

Spring is the time when many farmers and ranchers think about pest management, especially weed and insect management.

Unfortunately, some may not think about it in a systematic manner and wind up either costing themselves by spraying when it is unnecessary or using a poorly planned control program that fails. Here are some steps to help ensure your pest management program succeeds.

STEP 1 
Scout the fields

Sometimes, farmers or ranchers spray without determining which, if any, pests are in the field. If a field had weeds last year, it will probably have weeds in the same places again this year. The key word is “probably.” If you successfully controlled those weeds last year, they may not be present in enough abundance to spray this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, the fact that a field did not have weeds last year may or may not indicate it will have weeds this year. The only way to know is to thoroughly scout to determine if the fields have weeds and, if so, whether they are abundant enough to justify treatment. The only way to know this is to physically go into the field when the target pests have just begun to appear and look closely to determine their level of infestation. This is difficult to do from the cab of a pickup at 60 miles per hour.

STEP 2
Identify the pest

It is difficult to know how to proceed with a successful control program if you don’t know what pests are in the field. If your pests are insects, you need to know which insects are present and their growth stages. If your pests are weeds, you need the same information. Not all insects are pests, and not all plants that are not your main crop are weeds.

If you are unsure what the insect or plant is in your field, take good photos and send them to someone who can identify them. Be sure to take good-quality photos and have both close-up photos and ones that give a broader perspective. Once you know what is in your fields and the relative abundance of each plant or insect, you are another step closer to a successful pest control program.

STEP 3
See if there is an alternative to chemical treatment

Use of pesticides should be a last resort. Many pest problems can be handled with preventative measures. If prevention does not work, other alternatives include mechanical treatment methods or grazing management methods for weed control. Plan your program in such a manner that spraying herbicides or insecticides are not the first instinct but something you do when no other options are available.

STEP 4 
Determine the correct product to use

If you have done steps 1 through 3 and determine spraying is necessary, it’s time to choose the correct product to control your pest spectrum. There aren’t many “one-product-fits-all” pesticides. Let’s use weed control as an example and determine that you have 10 different plants identified as weeds. First, determine which weed is reducing forage yield or quality the most. Next, determine which weed is second-most troublesome and so on down the list of 10.

Now, search product labels, extension publications and other unbiased sources to see which herbicides control these weeds at their current growth stages. Then make sure the herbicides you are interested in are labeled for your crop. If you’re lucky, one product will control all 10 weeds. Sometimes this is not the case, but you may find that two products will control all 10 weeds.

Look at the product labels and see if you can tank mix them. If the label says it is OK to tank mix them, and the second product is not too expensive to use, your decision is pretty easy. If the labels specifically say to not mix these products, do not do it. The label is a federal law, and acting against the label is a violation of this law. If the label is silent about tank mixing these products, you can do a compatibility test to determine if the products are physically compatible. Use a search engine and look for “jar test helps determine compatible chemical mixes” for information on how to conduct this test.

After you have selected the proper product or products, you need to determine the rate to use. The label shows the recommended rate. There may be a range in rates. The lower rate in the range is for situations where conditions are ideal for control. The higher rate is needed if situations are not ideal (plants not in best growth stage for control, weed-stressed situations, etc.). If in doubt, use the higher rate. I’ve been told the most expensive pest control program is one that does not work. That is because you’ve spent money and received nothing for your effort. Don’t jeopardize a good control program to save a little money by shaving rates.

STEP 5
Calibrate your sprayer

It’s astonishing to see how many farmers and ranchers do not know the output of their sprayers. Sprayer calibration is not difficult and will determine how much product to put into the sprayer. At the very least, use a nozzle chart that estimates the output of a particular nozzle at a certain speed and pressure. Better yet, learn how to calibrate the sprayer and do so at least once a year.

You can find written or video instructions on how to calibrate sprayers on the internet. Noble Research Institute offers videos on calibrating both a boom sprayer (Calibrating a boom sprayer) and a boomless sprayer (Calibrating a boomless sprayer).  end mark

Eddie Funderburg
  • Eddie Funderburg

  • Senior Soils and Crops Consultant
  • Noble Research Institute
  • Email Eddie Funderburg

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