I can’t stress enough the importance of having your own two feet in the field to see what the heck is going on in your crops. Too often there is far more that we can bring to the field to help us identify exactly what is occurring, but the lack of a few simple tools can leave you with only partial answers. Here are some suggestions that will help anyone become a better crop scout:
Trowel/Shovel – There are two halves to a plant, and only one half is above ground. Digging up plants and checking roots can tell you a lot about what is going on in a crop.
Soil Thermometer – Knowing the soil temperature at specific depths is important for determining seeding date, but don’t take this out of your kit after May! Consider checking soil temperatures in June/July as well, soil temperatures have a lot of influence on what is happening with a plant.
Digging Utensil – May sound similar to a shovel or a trowel, but early season when checking for seed placement and seed depth these little tools such as those handed out by the Canola Council are great for finding seeds. Since it is smaller it makes looking for canola seeds much easier vs. a big trowel. (see image)
Guide Books – Having guides from insect, weed, disease identification booklets to guides from the Canola Council on swath staging and, of course, your provincial Crop Protection Guide are excellent tools to let you know what you are dealing with right in the field.
Smartphone/Tablet – This tool has become more and more powerful over the past couple of years. From the ability to take pictures, have a calculator, Google issues, take down notes, utilize apps or post to Twitter, the smartphone or tablet is a must-have. On my old list of things to keep in a kit calculator, notepad and camera have all been axed since smart phones have gone more mainstream.
Plant Stand Density Tool – I personally use a welded foot-square, but have seen other crop scouts that use hula hoops, to folding plastic squares, ¼ metre square wood blocks and more. Any of these work as long as you are aware of the plant number that you’re aiming for. These tools can help identify if your seeding rate was accurate or if there was an issue with emergence or even if a re-seed is necessary. Don’t just use for one count, see how stand counts progress one week after seeding, three weeks, six weeks and more.
Knife/Clippers – An Exacto knife or pocket knife are key for cutting open plant stems or roots to check for problem issues. Don’t forget the clippers to check for blackleg later in the season by cutting stems off at the base of the soil.
Insect Tools – A sweep net is a must in any scout kit to check for insect pressure in any crop. Next you may find an insect that you cannot identify even with the help of your handy guides so having some sturdy containers such as a small plastic containers (cups from the hospital or old medication tubes) can keep them from being crushed. A plastic bag just ends with them being crushed, especially if sending them away to be identified.
There are many things that I haven’t included such as flags, magnifying glass, gloves and more! But this should be a good start for many and I encourage everyone to try and find new things this coming season that they feel will be of benefit to them in their scouting kit.