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Monitoring your crop can save money

March 2021

Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to jennymathews@grainsa.co.za  

Once planting has been completed there is always an element of relief and farmers are often quite exhausted from long hours and stress. It is tempting to sit back and relax, satisfied the season’s work is done – but it’s not.

Keeping your maize crop flourishing throughout the growing season can be challenging so it is important to have a clear plan of action.

To avoid ‘crisis control mode’ at any stage of the crop growth:

  • Be present.
  • Be motivated.
  • Be vigilant.
  • Be informed.
  • Be proactive.
  • Be passionate.

It is important to do a regular tour around all your fields. Scout your fields diligently and thoroughly. You could consider having a weekly route where you stop in all your fields to assess their progress and health. A quick drive around looking out the window of the bakkie is really not being present. Stop, get out and inspect the fields. Walk through the rows, and bend down to inspect the soil, the roots of the plants and the leaves. Examine the plants closely for worrying signs or the presence of any undesirable plague or pest.

How do you know what you should be looking for? Get yourself informed. Talk to mentors, experts and neighbours. Read about the growth stages of the plants you are growing; learn more about commonly occurring weeds, pests and plagues in your region. 

Once you know more about these threats to your crop, you need to equip yourself with knowledge on how best to control them. You need to know at what stage of your crop development they will most likely affect yield, so you know when to control the problem.

The key to combating issues is: Be proactive and deal with each problem as it arises. It is crucial to manage your time well and be well informed. It is also important to focus your attention on tackling a problem properly and finishing the job so the threat to your crop potential is managed as best as possible.

Young maize infested with clover that needs to be controlled urgently.

Being proactive means you have prepared and serviced the equipment you may need for the control of problems such as your knapsack sprays and your boom sprayers. It means you have learned how to calibrate your spray equipment to get accurate distribution of chemical droplets with the right safety gear available for your farm workers.

Remember you need to use clean water for your spray mixes and you must be very sure of the doses you will use – an incorrect dose can spell disaster for your crop! Equally important, you must know whether your seed is Roundup ready or not – too many crops have been killed using Round-up spray on non Roundup plants. All this is avoidable.

The motto, ‘Prevention is better than cure,’ is one we should live by. However, things happen which we can’t always predict e.g. the Fall Army Worm outbreak which first occurred in South Africa in 2016. The farmers who managed to control this outbreak effectively were the ones who were diligently monitoring their fields and picked up the outbreak early.

Monitoring is an important part of mitigating any outbreak that may occur. Even if all looks clear and healthy, keep checking regularly as issues develop quickly. We took a drive through fields not far from our home the other day. Imagine our surprise when we spotted hail damage on the young plants – we had not even been aware that hail had fallen! We quickly got an expert out to assess the damage which, to our relief, was nothing to be worried about.

The same field one week later post herbicide spray application.

The important thing to bear in mind when a crisis occurs, is that panic and chaos never solved any problems. There are many solutions available to farmers these days:

  • Identify the problem accurately. If you are unsure, rather call on the advice of trusted experts. With modern technology and access to the internet it is becoming much easier to identify diseases and pests etc. 
  • Assess the extent of the damage or infestation. If you are good about doing your crop scouting then you should be able to catch it before the problem is at an uncontrollable level.
  • Devise a plan of action. More often than not there will be some form of chemical control measure which you can apply to tackle the problem, but using the correct product is essential. Consult your chemical representative to give you a recommendation and be sure to follow the programme that he gives you accurately.
  • Keep your goal, that is your bottom line, in sight. Remember that you are ultimately trying to minimise the financial loss that your potential yield loss will incur by leaving the problem untreated. If your crop is too tall to get in with a regular tractor drawn boom spray, then you will need to look at options like contracting a high rise sprayer or an aerial crop sprayer to get the job done. This can be an expensive outlay so you should bear in mind the overall damage and loss that you may experience when leaving the problem unattended. 

Stay passionate throughout the season. It should always be a source of pleasure to drive through your fields and check on the crops. Best wishes for the year ahead!

Publication: March 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula