Crop health is of paramount importance to farmers; thus, careful and consistent monitoring of crop health is an absolute must. A recent study on coffee yield losses from 2013 to 2015 revealed that pests and diseases led to high primary (26%) and secondary (38%) yield losses in the researcher’s sampled area. This highlights the significance of closely paying attention to such detrimental factors in your crop’s environment. Doing so will ensure maximum yield and profit for farmers come harvest time.
To look at crop health monitoring as governed by just one or two aspects, however, is a serious mistake. Rather, a holistic approach must be adopted; in other words, more factors need to be monitored than just pestilence and disease.
Here are seven of the most important crop health metrics for farmers to monitor, based on the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Program’s guidelines.
1. Crop appearance
Perhaps the most obvious indicator of crop health is their general appearance. While not an all-in-one, foolproof method of gauging the current condition of a particular set of crops, a farmer possessing the right tools and knowledge can tell quite a lot from simply looking at the state of his or her plants.
Lightness or discoloration in foliage more often than not points to chlorosis, a state in which plants produce insufficient chlorophyll. Modern methods of crop health monitoring, including new technologies that utilize both near-infrared and visible light, allow farmers to actively and accurately monitor chlorophyll content.
2. Crop growth
Among the indicators of poor crop growth are short branches, sparse stand, and the rarity or absence of new shoots. This, of course, will inevitably affect your total yield in a negative way. Under ideal circumstances, there should be robust growth and dense, uniform stand in your crops.
3. Tolerance or resistance to stress
Simply put, crop stress is a decrease in crop production brought about by external factors. An example would be exposure to excess light and high temperatures, which may disrupt photosynthesis (known as photoinhibition). As a result, crops will have insufficient energy to bear fruit or grow, and may even sustain lasting damage to their membranes, chloroplasts, and cells. Healthy crops are stress-tolerant, and can easily bounce back after being exposed to stressors in their environment.
4. Occurrences of pests and diseases
An indicator that your crops are extremely susceptible to pests and diseases would be if over 50% of the population ends up getting damaged by said factors. Under the right circumstances, less than 20% of your crops would be negatively affected by any invasion of pests or spread of disease, allowing them to easily recuperate and increase in number once more.
Building crop resistance against harmful insects and diseases can be done in a number of ways, including improving crop diversity, crop rotation, using organic pesticides such as Himalayan salt spray and eucalyptus oil, and even genetic research and enhancement.
5. Weed competition and pressure
Apart from insects and plant diseases, weeds can also spell doom for your crops, if left unchecked. In the event that your farm becomes overpopulated with weeds that will steal the nutrients from your crops, you will certainly notice that your crops are steadily dwindling. Healthy crops, on the other hand, would eventually overwhelm the weed population and reclaim dominance over your field.
6. Genetic diversity
To have only one dominant variety of crop in your farm is tantamount to putting your eggs in a single basket. For instance, you should consider the importance of having multiple disease-resistant crop varieties on your farm. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of replacing them entirely with a single, higher-yielding type.
7. Plant diversity and population
In an ideal setting, there should be more than two species of plants in your field. Counting the actual number of trees or plants across your farm, as well as the naturally occurring vegetation on all sides of the area, can also give you a better perspective on your farm’s overall crop health.
Importance of crop management system
Some farmers become overly reliant on insecticides and other chemicals to eliminate their pest problems — a grievous error, as this will likely lead to even more serious problems. Even the indiscriminate application of mineral fertilizers may inadvertently boost pest populations by making conditions ideal for them to thrive.
Ultimately, a combination of the right knowledge and the proper technology is a must in measuring and monitoring crop health metrics. Farmers must always be aware of the current health of their crops, and must be prepared to address any problems with solutions that don’t end up causing more.