Although we don’t plan for it, problems in crop production seem to appear most frequently at this time of year.

When problems do show up in a variety of production fields, it’s usually time to call in a “crop doctor.” This individual is not required to have a degree in medicine or a doctorate from some university. It is, however, important that this individual have a unique set of skills and some tools to go along with those skills.

GOOD TRAINING is essential if someone intends to be a good “crop doctor.” It isn’t necessary that this training come from a university.

Training from private sources that participate in the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) progam prepares many ag-professionals to be a good “crop doctor." Over the past few years, this training has become more technical and those who participate have a good basic and fundamental understanding of the principles of crop production.

An OPEN MIND when evaluating any problem is essential.

Usually, preconcieved ideas cloud the situation. It’s important to evaluate all aspects (soils, wether, etc.) of a situation when attempting to solve a production problem.  Preconcieved ideas can often lead an otherwise objective evaluation in the wrong direction and, as a result, there might be an incorrect diagnosis.

Individuals who are INQUISITIVE usually make good “crop doctors.”

Usually, its important to get all of the details that pertain to a problem. I don’t believe that it's possible to get too may details. With all of the facts at hand, it’s usually possible to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The ability to be a GOOD LISTENER is associated with being inquisitive. Sometimes, more than one individual has information that is important.  It’s important to listen to all opinions.

A SOIL PROBE and GARDEN TROWEL are 2 tools that should be carried by every “crop doctor.”

In addition to collecting soil samples when needed, the soil probe can be used as a general indication of compaction. Soil compaction is frequently overlooked as a problem that has a negative effect on crop production. Many times there’s benefit to digging plant roots — especially early in the growing season.  The trowel is a handy, compact tool for completing this cast.


For example, if the problem runs in straight lines across the field, it’s probably not soils related. Soil properties do not change in straight lines across the landscape.

If, on the other hand, the problem appears in irregular patterns, there’s a high probability that the problem is associated with one or more soil properties.


One sample is not adequate.  Three samples (soil) are suggested. if a problem is thought to be associated with soil fertilizer and/or fertilizer use.

One sample should be collected from a portion of the field where crop stunting or abnormal growth is most severe.  A second sample should be collected from a portion of the field where crop growth is judged to be “normal.”

A third sample should be collected from the marginal areas.  these marginal areas are usually on the border of the most stunted plants.  The marginal areas might also be described as transition areas where symptoms and/or growth turns from normal to stunted.

Plant samples should be taken fro the same locations as soil samples.  After analysis of both soil and plant samples, it may be possible to make a diagnosis of the problem if the problem is related to soil fertility and/or fertilizer use.  In my experience, it’s nearly impossible to diagnose the cause of a problem if there is only one soil and/or plant sample.

Use of a SECOND OPINION is common in medical sciences.  If there is some uncertainty, don’t ignore the possibility of asking for a second opinion.  With modern technology of digital photos etc., it’s relatively easy to get the second opinion.

I’m sure that there are other skills that I’ve missed.  However, the importance of the good “crop doctor” has not diminished.