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Give Your Field Post-Harvest Check Ups!

It’s the perfect time to prepare yourself, and your field, for success next year!

As harvest winds down, remember to get into your field afterwards and start scouting. Post-harvest scouting is the first step towards a successful season.

At Farming Smarter, we scout for pests, weeds, and soil health each fall and spring. This practice allows us to better understand what’s happening both above and below the ground. Because of this, we can make more informed decisions about our field and our crops.

We adopted these practices while our Custom Research Team participated in the Alberta Insect Pest Monitoring Network, and to prepare for fall seeding. However, we saw enough positive results to expanded scouting and soil sampling to be general practices each fall.

Knowing is half the battle

Scouting gives an idea of what you’re up against come spring. This may change your plans and strategy; if you find insect pests like wheat stem sawfly, you might rethink growing wheat in that field come spring.

“When you scout your field, you have a pest or weed in mind and you’re still thinking about how to control them. You’re looking for populations to compare to your thresholds; this will give you the best understanding of how to act,” says Trevor Deering, Farming Smarter Custom Research Team.

You afford yourself the luxury of knowing how to protect your field, and it provides you with the time to prepare. Unfortunately, not all risks can wait until spring. Invasive weeds should be controlled immediately. While they provide a forecast for next year, letting them persist through the winter will only exacerbate the situation.

male wheat stem sawfly
Male wheat stem sawfly. Commonly found in post-harvest scouting
Photo: Goulet, H.

While you should always be monitoring and scouting your field, getting in after harvest allows you to see what hid beneath the canopy. Often, we find weeds hidden with stubble.

However, without the canopy above, the weeds bask in the sunlight absorbing heat. And whatever moisture comes into the soil will be used by the weed as it grows. Additionally, as the days grow shorter and temperatures fall, the efficacy of herbicides begins to decline. Getting into the field immediately after harvest helps ensure you don’t miss the opportunity to protect yourself for the next growing season, especially if you’re doing fall seeding!

Knowing what you’re up against will help you plan effectively. Whether the weed can be combined, or if you’ll need to leave patches to return and mow.

We recommend scouting until the first frosts begin to creep into your fields, around mid-October. Some years this point can fluctuate and happen sooner or later – so it’s important not to let it wait!

Carlo Van Herk inspects the soil during fall soil sampling.

Understanding What’s in Your Field

When scouting, it isn’t just weeds and pests you’re looking for – keeping an eye on your marginal land will help track changes in your field year-to-year. Soil issues like saline spots, or soil erosion can be monitored with healthy amounts of scouting.

While we don’t recommend scouring every inch of your field with a fine tooth comb, we do recommend getting a good sense of general spots throughout your land.

“Fall scouting is a good time to make notes of your land. Be strategic, include lower areas and higher spots,” comments Deering.

“You want to be out there looking at four to five spots, enough to get a good sense of understanding within your field,” he adds.

While a dry year is not conducive for crop growth, lack of moisture come fall hinders weed growth after harvest. However, not every weed slows down when moisture is limited. Kochia can continue to outperform competition even in adverse conditions.

“This year, I saw plenty of farmers leaving large patches of kochia, combining around it, to later return and mow it out,” says Deering.