Deer season has started, and if you’re not out hunting for Goliath, everyone else you know is. The best among them have been scouting his habits for weeks, maybe months. You know what he likes to eat, what time he might stop for a drink and where. You know how skittish he is, and what direction he breaks when he takes off. You’ve invested time and money in doing these things, and the payoff is going to be a big old trophy and more jerky than you and yours can eat in half a year.
Of course, this article isn’t about deer hunting. It’s about crop scouting. That time and money you invest in investigating a trophy deer’s habits—why not do the same for your crops, which can return not a trophy and some dried meat, but actual money?
For less than two bushel of corn per acre, you can hire a crop scout to visit every week. That’s essentially cheap insurance. You don’t bat an eye at the $20-30 you pay per acre for crop insurance because you know that it’s helping to protect your bottom line. Crop scouting does exactly the same thing.
I talk with a lot of growers who feel that their FSA should provide some scouting services. The feeling is, I think, that you plop quarter-million dollar checks down on their desks, which is quite enough to purchase some scouting services as well. I understand, but here’s the issue with such an idea: while FSAs are totally willing to check out your crops, they are actually physically unable to scout your crops as they need to be scouted. Most of an FSA’s job is managerial and because it takes less time to manage an acre than to walk it, your FSA has more acres to deal with than he could possibly walk in a week. This makes him a poor choice of crop scout.
To be certain, your FSA is very knowledgeable and is probably even a pretty good diagnostician—but because he can’t give every acre the attention that good scouting requires, by the time he sees a problem pop up, odds are that it’s already too late.
I talk with a lot of growers too who think that they’re just going to do their own scouting then. It’s a noble aim and the knowledge you could gain about your fields from doing so would be invaluable, but you face a similar challenge to your FSA. Basically, you’ve got too much other work to do to be a good scout. Good scouting takes commitment—you must do it every week without fail—and it takes thoroughness—you must attend to it with your total attention. That’s a tall order, and in my experience, growers who attempt to scout their own fields often fail to find the time or muster the attention necessary to meet their ends.
Thus the case for a hired scout, someone whose job it is to walk your fields weekly and with unchallenged attention. If this scout catches even one infestation in one field before it gets out of hand, this scout has not just justified his or her cost but has paid for his or her self. That’s what a good scout does. If your scout is really great, you’ll even find that their service pays for more than just itself.
It’s deer season and everyone’s out to bag the biggest, baddest deer in the state. You want bragging rights about what you brought in this season. Hiring a good (or great) scout will earn you the same rights and put some money in your pocket at the same time.