Do you have pests in your nursery? How do you know? They were probably reported by a scout.
The first thing you need to consider when you think about scouting is come to grips with who’s actually going to do it. Some nurseries have full-time scouts, some have part-time scouts, but for most operations scouting is part of someone’s responsibilities – not an entire job description on its own.
“Don’t think you have to have a paid, titled, credential scout do the scouting,” says Timothy Malinich, horticulture educator in agriculture and natural resources with the Ohio State University Extension’s Erie County office. “Scouts can just be people that have been empowered to go out there and look for things, see those things and report them back to the people that will need to treat them.”
Scouts could be site managers. If a nursery has multiple farms, it could be the manager of each farm. It could be all employees at the farm. It could be the employees on the potting line or employees managing inventory in the shipping yard. In many cases, it’s the applicator.
Nursery managers can empower everyone in their organization to scout. But you need to make it part of the job description. Scouting does cost time and through that, money. You must give the people you are empowering to scout time to scout, and be flexible about when they do it.
“If the foreman is out there walking the block and scouting, you can’t give him grief for walking the block when he’s supposed to be scouting,” Malinich says.
Thomas DeHaas, another agriculture and natural resources educator at Ohio State University Extension’s Erie County office, knows one applicator who scouts when it’s raining. This is efficient use of his time, because you can’t spray when it’s raining. One of the best times to scout for scale is winter, because the branches are not covered up with leaves.
You should also provide some basic training on what scouting entails. Though even without formal training, if an employee sees something that doesn’t look normal, they can report it and you can use it as a point of data.
DeHaas says every employee is likely to have one of the most powerful scouting tools right in their pocket: the smartphone.
“They can take a picture and text somebody,” he says. “If you have a central person who gets that info, you’ve already improved your scouting program 100 percent.”
DeHaas suggests growers think outside the box to incentivize employees to scout in addition to their responsibilities. For instance, you could offer $1 for each picture sent that turns out to be a problem.
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth paying for,” DeHaas says. “Giving people time to do it is going to cost you money, but it saves money too.”
There are several financial and plant health benefits to a robust scouting program. Because your trained scout or scouts can find pests before they become a problem, you’re able to reduce pesticide inputs, preserve your beneficial insect supply, and reduce the chance of pesticide resistance because you’ve reduced how often you need to spray.