By Emilie Abraham
SCOUTING refers to the regular examination of crop fields or gardens in a prescribed manner so as to measure pest and disease levels. This is done by going through the crop field or garden while making frequent stops for observation. The cheapest crop management tool every farmer can use to detect pests and diseases is scouting. Scouting assists farmers to identify field problems early, such as nutrient deficiencies, diseases and pest infestations. This allows timely corrective action before major crop losses occur. Delays can result in reduced yield per unit area and eventually affect the farmer’s profitability. Traditionally, scouting is practiced so that a farmer can see how different areas of his or her mahangu or maize field have grown and to determine whether replanting is required. It should be understood that with every cropping season – during winter or summer – farmers are faced with crop field challenges. Some pests can be identified early; some occur randomly and the damage or results are only detected on the crops. Therefore, farmers are advised to keep a close eye on the garden or field throughout the growing season and to do proper crop feeding as diseases and pests do not affect healthy crops. Scouting should commence immediately after germination. This will give the farmer an understanding of how the seeds have performed (germinated); provide early signs of pest occurrence and other factors, such as nutrient deficiencies manifested in the seedlings. Thereafter, frequent scouting should be done to prevent disease and pest damage on the crops. Routine scouting allows famers to observe the overall health of the crops, thereby assisting farmers to improve their yield and maximise crop efficiency. Careful examination of the field or garden should be done at three-day intervals. Scouting can be done in an M, W pattern or a diagonal approach method. The farmer should count 10 metres from the field’s edge and com-mence movement using either of the abovementioned approaches. Scouting should be done in the morning (06h00 – 07h00) and afternoon (17h00 – 18h00) when temperatures are cooler, as pests hide and may not be visible during the day. While scouting, farmers are advised to check on top and under the leaves of the plants, as well as to pull on and examine the weaker plants. Identified pests can be trapped in a clear bottle or high-resolution pictures can be taken, that can be presented to agricultural extension officials and more experienced farmers for professional advice. Alternatively, these images can also be shared via social media platforms (e.g. credible WhatsApp agriculture farming groups) to seek advice. Crop challenges can be soil-related, such as nutrient deficiencies, if the soil is not prepared well before planting (compaction) and due to over-fertilization (fertilizers/manure burn). It could be nematodes, rodents etc. Sometimes environmental or climate-related factors, such as frost, heat stress or wind, present major challenges. Factors favouring pests and disease development need to be monitored so that future mitigation measures can be in place to curb losses. Farmers should look out for odd colours on leaves
(e.g. yellow, purple, brown etc.); lesions and chewed foliage; weak, dead or missing plants; insect presence and insect droppings and stunted or abnormal crop growth.
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