Eliminating the pests without harming the friendlies—that’s the heart of Colorado grower Joe Newton’s integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. Accomplishing it year after year takes time, hard work and the right combination of tools.
Newton farms roughly 3,400 irrigated acres within 40 miles of Yuma, Colorado. “This year, I’ve got 2,700 acres of corn and 700 acres of edible beans,” he says. “Most of the corn stays right here in the region, going to ethanol plants or feedlots.”
Like many farmers, high corn yields are a top priority for Newton. “We’ve never averaged 300 bushels, but we’ve been within three or four bushels about 10 times,” he chuckles. “We’re generally in that 260-270 bushel range.”
As intent as Newton is on pushing for yields, he’s just as serious about his IPM program. “Our first step is to scout our fields heavily and thoroughly,” he explains. “Our two big concerns in corn are western bean cutworm and spider mites. When we find cutworm egg masses on 6-8% of our corn, we’ll treat. We like to hit spider mites when we see heavy pressure 2-3 leaves below the ear. We usually see those mite levels right at the end of the vegetative stage, around V14, so that’s when we treat.”
Chemigation is key
Newton notes that the standard approach to control spider mites and cutworm in his area is an aerial application of a binfenthrin or organophosphate plus Oberon® right at tasseling. “That’s what I’d call a ‘hot’ approach,” Newton notes. “It’s a combination that eliminates everything—pests and beneficials.”
In line with his commitment to IPM, Newton prefers to use targeted, “soft,” low-use-rate insecticides delivered by chemigation to minimize collateral damage to beneficial insects. He’s been using chemigation since he began farming in 1987, but adds that improved chemistry has made his IPM approach possible. “The introduction of Oberon for spider mites was a big plus,” he recalls. “We’ve been using Belt® for cutworm at a 2-ounce rate. With Belt now a banned insecticide, however, I’m going to have to look for an alternative.”
Newton uses Insectigator® units from Agri-Inject to deliver the appropriate levels of insecticide to his center pivots. “I like the Insectigator because it’s lightweight, portable and dependable,” he says. “I can load four in a pickup. I take my ATV on a trailer, and then I can load one Insectigator and the insecticide into the ATV to take to the pivot. That way, I can set up four pivots in a morning.
“The low-use-rate chemicals are a perfect fit for a portable system like this,” Newton adds. “Gone are the days of having to trailer a 100-gallon unit for these insecticides.”
While Newton notes that the initial chemical cost of a targeted approach can be higher, he feels he generally makes up for it later in the season. “When you get rid of your beneficial insects that help to keep your mite population in check, a high percentage of the time you’re going to have to come back in and treat again,” he notes. “I’d estimate that around 85% of the time or higher, we only have to treat once.”
Newton adds that he also uses the Insectigator to deliver fungicide through his pivots. “I’ve observed that corn stays green and healthy later into the season with a fungicide application, so we treat all our corn acres,” he says. “If the timing is appropriate, we tank mix fungicide with the insecticides.”
Other advances in sprinkler and control technology have also greatly improved the accuracy and efficiency of chemigation, Newton notes. “Improved telemetry that enables remote pivot monitoring and control has been huge for us,” he states. “It just makes this so simple compared to what I used to have to go through when I started.”
With constant improvements in technology and 30 years of experience to draw upon, Newton is more committed than ever to IPM and chemigation—and the pursuit of 300-bushel corn. “Maybe this will be the year,” he says.
Kyle Newton setting up an Insectigator on one of their pivots.