Insects, Weeds and Diseases Don’t Stand a Chance With a Pest Boss

The role of a pest boss is a year-round job. Evolving threats make education imperative. ( Darrell Smith )

Does your operation have a track record of establishing or killing cover crops too late? What about a sudden onset of resistant weeds because the same herbicide program is used year after year? Then you need to designate a pest boss. What is a pest boss you ask? The person who is in charge of all the organisms that might threaten your crop, which includes insects, weeds and diseases, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. The pest boss should be a farm employee, but it’s a big job, so individual duties can be delegated to members of the team who are inside or outside the operation. 

Knows which pests are likely to occur and when.

That includes domestic pests and diseases that spend their entire life cycle on the farm and foreign pests that overwinter elsewhere. A pest boss also keeps track of heat units from multiple sources of data (land-grant universities, weather stations, seed companies and/or retailers) to stay ahead of domestic insects as well as weather conditions to predict disease outbreaks. Sticky traps, attractant lures and black-light traps can alert a pest boss to insects moving into the area.

Scouts fields and calls the shots on treatments.

A pest boss carries a hand lens for a close look at tiny pests and a scouting manual or access to the internet to identify pests. Basically, a pest boss is authorized to treat fields. That way he can treat before damage becomes serious (and before the neighbors do). After treating, the pest boss ensures re-entry deadlines are observed and evaluates the effectiveness of each treatment.

Takes the lead on software and technology and maintains good records of every field.

The traditional pocket book still works, but the past decade has unleashed an array of innovations, starting with smartphones, that can make a pest boss more efficient and effective.

“You can take notes, snap a picture and use the phone’s GPS feature to record the location of a threat,” Ferrie says. “Software programs, many of which are cloud-based, let you carry your master plan to the field on your smartphone or tablet.    

“When there’s a pest threat, the pest boss needs to be able to refer to records to know which varieties and trait packages are planted where to know which fields are most susceptible,” he adds.

Studies products in the offseason and evaluates how changes impact pest management.

During the winter months, study new products and evaluate how changes in production practices and seed choices impact pest management to create appropriate strategies. For example, some farms are moving away from GMO-traited seed to manage insects because of costs. That means the pest boss and his team need to look for moths flying in May and June depositing eggs on the underside of corn plant leaves.

Assembles and supervises a pest management team.

A pest boss doesn’t have to do everything. For example, it might be challenging to scout every field in a timely manner. That’s when scouting is divided among team members, whether employees, retailers or consultants. “All the data collected must be reported to the pest boss, though, so he can access it,” Ferrie says. Communication among everyone involved in producing the crop is crucial.