Scouting worth it at Korson’s Tree Farms

Through regular scouting and good recordkeeping, this Christmas tree grower has taken his integrated pest management program to a whole new level.

Bailing treesWith 1,000 acres of evergreens, Rex Korson is constantly looking for better ways to raise a high quality crop for less, providing a real value for his customers. He’s a second-generation Montcalm County farmer who has embraced an intensive integrated pest management program, resulting in less pesticide applications and a real savings for the farm.

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 of a successful IPM program,” says Jill O’Donnell, a Michigan State University Extension educator who has worked with Korson’s Tree Farms for nearly 20 years. “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, Fred Korson, 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 together, uncle and nephew are always in close communication.

“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,” says Rex Korson.

Of the farm’s 15 full-time employees, five are crew leaders in charge of monitoring pest populations. Not only are they trained continuously to recognize pest problems, but they also gain hands-on learning through scouting.

Rex Korson“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,” says Korson. “It’s really worked well.”

By 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. Reducing applications also reduces any negative effect on beneficial insect populations. Scouting really paid off for Korson’s Tree Farms in controlling pine tortoise scale, which has been a challenge for Christmas tree growers over the last 20 years. The crawlers secrete a sugary honeydew that mold and turn black over time, seriously affecting the tree quality. Because of close scouting procedures, Korson was able to spray the crawlers as soon as they hatched.

Normally, they’d make a second application on the first generation of hatching crawlers, but after continuous monitoring and scouting, the populations never reached the threshold needed for a second application.

Keep up on records

Korson is quick to point out that accurate recordkeeping is essential in a good IPM program. “We were very aggressive on really scouting the timing of when these crawlers were going to hatch,” Korson says. “We keep records from year to year and use growing degree days to really predict when that hatch is going to start. 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,” he says. “If we would’ve just gone by the calendar, we would’ve made three more applications that just weren’t necessary.”

O’Donnell 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,” O’Donnell says.

“Through regular scouting, Rex has a very detailed knowledge of various pests, and I often call him to find out what he is observing.”

IPM Academy

To brush up on pest management skills, improve IPM practices and learn about MSU’s 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.

The academy costs $225 and offers Michigan pesticide recertification credits. For more information on the program, a full agenda or registration, visit To register by phone, contact Betsy Braid at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 517- 884-7081.

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