For Korson’s Tree Farms, Scouting Is Worth The Effort

Mar 25, 2014

Scouting is a crucial component in a successful IPM program.

Rex Korson is a second-generation farmer for Korson’s Tree Farms, a 1,000-acre evergreen farm located in Michigan’s Montcalm County. The philosophy of Korson’s Tree Farms is to provide an excellent, high-quality product at an outstanding value. Many factors go into delivering on that goal, but one of the most important is a successful integrated pest management (IPM) program. When Korson purchased the farm in 2003 from his parents, Wayne and Vicki, he took the farm’s IPM program to a completely new level.

Scouting is a crucial component in a successful IPM program. It keeps farmers on top of field conditions, helps them catch and diagnose pests or problems early, and allows for timely corrective action before major crop losses occur. Korson’s uncle has led the farm’s scouting effort for the past 30 years, working on the frontline when it comes to scouting and monitoring pest populations. Working closely together, uncle and nephew are always in communication with each other.

“He makes recommendations to me about what he’s seeing out in the field and when he thinks it’s necessary to make a spray application,” said Korson.

Of the farm’s 15 full-time employees, five are crew leaders. As part of the job, crew leaders go out in the field regularly and monitor pest populations. Not only do they train continuously on recognizing pest problems, but they also gain hands-on learning through scouting.

“We really put a focus on that in the last five years ‒ training our crew leaders on pests and giving them the experience to identify these pests when they occur. It’s really worked well,” said Korson.

Because of scouting, Korson and his crew can watch the population of a specific pest and wait until they meet an optimum threshold before applying a spray. The fewer applications they need to make, the less of an impact the applications will have on beneficial insect populations. Scouting really paid off for Korson’s Tree Farms this year when they successfully made an initial first spray against pine tortoise scale that resulted in not having to apply a second spray.

Pine tortoise scale has been a challenge for Christmas tree growers over the last 20 years. The crawlers secrete a sugary honeydew that will mold and turn black over time, seriously affecting the quality of the tree. Korson and his crew watched for pine tortoise scale populations. When they saw the crawlers hatch, they made the first spray. Normally, they’d make a second application on the first generation of hatching crawlers, but after continuous monitoring and scouting, they saw that populations never reached the threshold needed for a second spray application.

Korson’s Tree Farms follows up its scouting with IPM recordkeeping.

“We were very aggressive on really scouting the timing of when these crawlers were going to hatch. We keep records from year to year and use growing degree days to really predict when that hatch is going to start,” said Korson. “Because of this, we had a very successful first initial spray and were able to avoid a second spray.”
In the past, Korson has made as many as four applications.

“There is no better example of IPM and scouting for pests and making applications when necessary. If we would’ve just gone by the calendar, we would’ve made three more applications that just weren’t necessary,” he said.
Jill O’Donnell, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator for Wexford County, has worked with Korson and Korson’s Tree Farms for nearly 20 years. She has seen firsthand the impact a successful IPM program has had on the farm.

“Rex takes IPM to the next step by not only scouting for insects, but then evaluating his control programs to see if they have worked or not and how they could be improved,” said O’Donnell. “Through regular scouting, Rex has a very detailed knowledge of various pests and I often call him to find out what he is observing.”
Implementing a strong IPM program is crucial in having a successful crop.

If you want to brush up on your pest management skills, improve your IPM practices and learn about MSU’s great resources, consider attending the 2014 IPM Academy, Feb. 18‒19, at the Okemos Conference Center in Okemos, Mich. This two-day workshop includes presentations and sessions from a number of MSU’s research and extension faculty, offering a rare opportunity to hear from experts working in a variety of disciplines and cropping systems in a single event.

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