Growers may have to spend one to two hours every week in each canola field to keep tabs on all the possible threats. Scouting 10 canola fields requires the equivalent of one whole day a week. This is time well spent if it means stopping an insect that has reached economic levels of damage, or recognizing conditions where a fungicide spray is needed. But an extra day a week for scouting can be hard to find, especially in the middle of spraying season.
Growers who do not have the time for timely scouting may want to hire an agronomist to support their own scouting program. Most agronomists are also pressed for time, and may not be able to spend one to 2 hours a week scouting each canola field, but agronomists can supplement the time growers spend scouting, and provide experience and skills to help growers make informed decisions about weed, disease or insect control, stand establishment issues, reseeding after a frost, or harvest timing.
Here are some tips to help growers find the right agronomist:
Be clear about expectations. Do you want someone to scout and make recommendations to help you with the decision? Or do you want someone to make all crop protection decisions? Agronomists are more likely to prefer to help growers make the decisions rather than make final decisions on a grower’s behalf. Also, an agronomist may not be able to come back to your fields every week, and certainly not multiple times per week, so be clear with your scouting expectations and ask the agronomist if he or she can deliver that level of service. An effective grower and agronomist team may divvy up responsibilities, and both may be required to do some scouting. The agronomist may see that cutworm damage seems to be building, flag the spot, then encourage the grower to check again in a couple days before making a spray decision.
Make sure the agronomist understands what you consider important. Some growers are adamant about rotating herbicides and fungicides. Some growers are aggressive when it comes to protecting their crop against disease, while others may be inclined to avoid the cost of a foliar fungicide regardless of the risk assessment. It helps for the agronomist to understand your point of view, so they can focus their time and efforts on issues you most want help with. Communication is important.
Ask for references. The agronomist can provide names of growers he or she has worked with in the area. The grower can also ask around to find people who know the agronomist. Ask about their education level and extra training they have take to keep up with the latest information.
Go scouting. Take the agronomist out to a canola field and observe how he/she works. This gives you an idea how the agronomist scouts, how much of the field is covered, and tools used. While out there, the grower may want to ask questions such as, how the agronomist estimates the number of lygus in a field or how they make the decision to spray for sclerotinia, for example, to get a feel for their process.
Ask about backup. Does an agronomist have the network to find out what’s out there so they can anticipate what’s coming? Effective agronomists will often use back up material and bounce ideas off co-workers and key contacts before making recommendations. Less experienced agronomists can still provide good support by getting outside advice, but you want to be confident they have access to that advice and are willing to use it in situations they are unfamiliar with. Make sure they get Canola Watch!
Know the agronomist’s coverage area. As a grower, ask yourself if it’s more important that an agronomist knows the ins and outs of a small area or covers a wide area, perhaps making them familiar with a broader range of issues? Traveling over a larger territory may provide the agronomist with a good perspective on regional issues or pest outbreaks that are developing, but the trade-off may be less time spent in your fields. Ask yourself which perspective will be most valuable to your farming operation.
Give them a few test scenarios. As in a job interview, growers could give agronomists a few test scenarios and see how they answer. For example, what rotation would you recommend for me? Or, what rate would you recommend seeding canola and why? A good agronomist will get to know more about you, your field characteristics and conditions, and your farming philosophy before answering these questions.
Independence: Growers will want to know if an agronomist is tied to a particular product line. What if the best product for a job is something outside of that product line? If the agronomist’s approach is to tell you where to get it, even if it’s from a competitor, this is a good sign.