We once again find ourselves in the early part of the growing season. With some fields still going in and other fields emerged to well-progressed, the time is ripe to review some early-season scouting tips and reminders.
First, the early portion of the growing season still allows us to pull samples for Soybean Cyst Nematode (SCN). Remember, following weeds, this little pencil-point sized pest is the number one yield reducer in Midwest soybean production. Target those fields that have struggled to meet your operation’s yield average—focus on those outlier low-yielding fields. A soil probe or spade can be used to secure a dozen or so inch-wide by seven-inch deep samples. Send the resulting composite sample into the U of I Plant Clinic as soon as possible after sampling. Although resistant beans and corn rotation largely keep this pest in check, we occasionally need to tweak that program. For more information about nematode sampling and the U of I Plant Clinic see: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/plantclinic/aboutus.cfm
Second, monitor all fields weekly. UAVs and satellite imagery make this more feasible than ever before, allowing us to better triage fields most demanding of our valuable time. Pay special attention to the earliest planted fields. Those fields tend to be most at risk for encountering rough early-season conditions (crusting, drowned out spots, etc.). Such fields can also be the focal point for certain pests— bean leaf beetles, for example. Since part of our recent gain in soybean production has stemmed from the yield benefits associated with early planting, watch your fields so you can make an early judgment call. The sooner you can make a well-informed replant decision, the sooner you can salvage some of those yield benefits associated with early planting.
Third, watch those fields that have been manured or that have lots of green material incorporated. Manure and green materials can be attractive to the fly species responsible for seed corn maggot. While our seed treatments have substantially reduced issues with this pest, it still does appear from time to time. Look at those cotyledons/seed leaves. If the pest is there tunneling, the maggots themselves should be present.
Fourth, dig up some plants while in the field. Remember, you only see half the story when you just look above the soil surface. Do you see evidence of seedling disease? Do you notice any cankers near the soil surface? Factor this information into stand counts so that you can (once again) make an early call on replant or decide if you need to spruce up the population with an overseed run.
Finally, do not forget the most severe yield reducer we fight each year. Survey fields for weeds. Do you notice any escapes? Do you notice any unusual species? Take notes and then visit with your trusted weed management advisor. Many of the pests mentioned above can substantially reduce yield, but only unchecked weeds carry the power to literally zero out bushels.