Farming involves tough questions, such as determining if a fungicide should be applied to corn for northern corn leaf blight, or figuring out if yellow patches in a soybean field are caused by sudden death syndrome, a nutrient deficiency or a different disease.
Crop scouting, along with knowing what questions to ask and clues to be on the lookout for, can help determine the right answers to these issues and many others. Educating the next generation of farmers is a goal of Iowa State University's Integrated Pest Management program.
To provide students with an opportunity to learn crop-scouting skills, along with integrated pest management (IPM) basics, ISU Extension hosted the fifth annual Crop Scouting Competition for Iowa youth on Aug. 4, 2015.
Eleven student teams from high schools in Iowa competed this year
"Equipping future farmers and agronomists with crop scouting skills will help the next generation of farm decision makers with crop production and land stewardship skills," says Daren Mueller, assistant professor and an ISU Extension specialist in plant pathology. Eleven student teams from Iowa high schools competed in the event.
The annual competition was created to increase high school students' awareness of Iowa agriculture using hands-on learning and teamwork. Topics at this year's event included crop diseases, insects and disorders, weed identification, estimating corn yield, crop growth stages, soil sampling, deciphering aerial imagery and using a tablet-based scouting app. A representative from the Iowa Certified Crop Advisers board also spoke to teams about careers in agriculture.
Teams get outside the classroom and use their skills
One of the benefits of the competition is that it allows the teams of students to get outside the classroom and use their skills. Another benefit is that the field stations are run by ISU Extension specialists and event sponsors such as the Iowa Soybean Association and ScoutPro.
"When the students are learning directly from the professional experts about crop scouting basics, this early knowledge is valuable in the future to both the family farm, as well as for Iowa's agriculture industry," says Mueller.
Judges based their scores on how well teams did at each of the 11 scouting-themed field exercises. At the end of the competition, teams and their leaders participated in a meal and were awarded certificates and monetary prizes between $50 and $500.
First place was awarded to a Clayton County team led by Joe and Suzanne Shirbroun, Pioneer independent sales representatives from Farmersburg. The Shirbrouns brought another team which placed fourth. A close second place was awarded to the student team from Denison, led by Randall Kuhlmann of Kuhlmann Seed. Third place went to the Guthrie Center FFA team led by Jim Calvert, agricultural instructor at Guthrie Center Community School.
"Teams work really hard to prepare for the competition, both students and team leaders," observes Adam Sisson, ISU Extension specialist for the Integrated Pest Management program. "Organizing a team, setting aside time for practicing during the summer, teaching scouting skills and attending the competition may be a time commitment, but worth the investment."
If you are interested in competing next year, here's who to contact
Next year's competition will be Aug. 2, 2016, at the ISU Field Extension Education Lab (FEEL) west of Ames, at 1928 240th St., Boone. More information will be posted on the IPM website [ipm.iastate.edu/cropscouting] when the info becomes available. You can send an email now to Adam Sisson at [email protected] to be added to the 2016 competition contact list for details.
The 2015 contest was sponsored by DuPont Pioneer, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Certified Crop Advisers, Iowa Independent Crop Consultants Association, ScoutPro, USDA, and ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff.