By Shane Thomas, Global Digital Ag Lead
The demand for agronomists in the agriculture industry is growing every single day. Producing profitable crops while minimizing a farmers risk and benefitting their operation in the long term is getting more and more complex every year. Whether it be new crop protection products, agronomic practices, machinery/equipment, technology and more, there is always something new to be considering or to be utilizing to ensure farmers are getting the support they need to successfully climb through the agronomic landscape.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a wildly popular self enhancement book from the late 80’s by Stephen Covey that has sold more than 25 million copies. My goal is to take the principles as he stated them and talk about them with an agronomic twist.
1. Be Proactive – Being in a reactive state no matter the situation typically puts us at a disadvantage. No different in agronomy. Always lay out a plan to not only help yourself, but help the farmer have highest chance of success. A plan doesn’t mean you won’t have to be reactionary some of the time, but it allows you to stay ahead of situations and mitigate potential misses or oversights.
a. Examples: Laying out a crop plan by crop input product, rate etc in the winter months.
b. Laying out a spray plan by field to insure farmers have your thoughts on which fields need to take priority, whether it be insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or something else.
c. Planning your day or week out for field scouting in season based on a pre determined criteria, such as time of year, staging, NDVI or historical problem areas.
2. Begin with the End in Mind – On a yearly basis, a highly effective agronomist is always working to understand what a farmer’s yield and profitability targets are. From there you always have the ability to develop a plan to optimize for these targets. This doesn’t need to be constrained to simply yield and profitability on a yearly basis, it could be with the aim to clean up the field from a weed perspective, build soil nutrient reserves or even to help plan for a longer term farm management plan such as controlled traffic farming for example. As an agronomist, you always want to know what the farmers goals and targets are; without them it makes being effective a much more difficult task. Identifying opportunities for the farmer or coming up with ideas for them will only help your cause.
3. Put First Things First – There are many different components to agronomy and farming that can distract from some of the foundations of a strong, profitable crop. At the end of the day, there are some basics that should never be compromised and then you can build from there:
a. Seeding depth
b. Seed and fertilizer placement
c. Seed/Fertilizer rate
Now, there are many important factors to helping a farmer grow a successful crop, but if these aspects haven’t been optimized it makes it much more difficult for any other tools, such as additional fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides, biostimulants etc. to get that crop to the top end of yield and profitability.
4. Think Win-Win – Thinking win-win is a great habit to get into all of the time. When talking win-win within agronomy it should be looked at with the mindset that you are making an effective recommendation that maximizes profits for the short term (eg: that year), but doesn’t constrain options or profitability the following year (or longer term even). In agronomy there are many scenario’s that require a solution that isn’t ideal for the following year (eg: herbicide option with residual). As best as possible always be looking for options that set the next year up for success as well as the current year.
5. Seek First to Understand – Always focus on understanding the root cause of a problem in the field, not just the implication of the problem. What I mean by this is getting to the bottom of every single situation that is happening in a field. For example, a common problem in cereals is lodging. It’s easy to blame the variety, but don’t make the simple call without first knowing what else might be going on. Is it only occurring in a specific area of the field? Is there a nutrient deficiency like potassium? Is there excessive nutrients like nitrogen in that area? Was there a seeding rate issue? Could it be from mechanical issues with the seeder in that area? The list could go on. Always ensure you understand what the root cause is, utilizing the tools you have at your disposal to confirm what is actually happening. The best way to understand the root cause?
Get in the field! Effective agronomists don’t diagnose from the road or their computer, they get down and dirty, literally
6. Synergize – The best agronomists continually network and develop relationships with other agronomists, farmers, industry experts (entomologists, pathologists etc), technical representative from life science/fertilizer companies and don’t limit yourself to your given geography. We live in a global economy and work in a global industry, even though it may seem crazy to apply what is being done in Brazil in Canada for example, it actually might be extremely relevant. Integrative thinking or taking the best from 2 different ideas, can be another way to synergize and obtain best possible outcomes and results; something many of the best agronomists do with ease. Working with others is going to make all agronomists more effective and ultimately support making farmers more successful in the long run.
7. Sharpen the Saw – My favourite, and probably the most important part of being a highly effective agronomist is constant improvement. The bests agronomists are always learning – whether it’s reading journal articles, updates from industry resources, listening to podcasts, scavenging the internet for articles or simply scrolling twitter; there is always something new to learn that will make you more effective in the future. One concept I find extremely fascinating is applying the “half-life” concept from science to knowledge and information. Much of what we know today will change at some point in the future, which is why we need to constantly learn and update our understandings and approaches. For example, the “half-life” of something like the law of gravity is actually very long, whereas the half-life of what is in the news today is very short; in other words, gravity is still going to be relevant next year, but Trump’s most recent tweet? Probably not so much. This is why the best agronomists continually learn – things change.
While certain industry standards are 40 hours of learning every 2 years for the Certified Crop Advisor’s or 35 hours per year for provincial institute of agrology I would argue that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the best agronomists out there. My suggestion is to attempt >100 hours per year. That essentially works out to 2 hours per week. Sounds like a lot? That’s just 20 minutes per day!
Never stop learning!
For agronomists wanting to improve these are some of the basics that are a great start. For any farmers, if you are looking for an agronomist or wanting to work with one, these are some basics that can help you determine if they are going to be a valuable fit for your operation.
I will be writing follow ups elaborating on some other aspects the most effective agronomists excel in as well as my thoughts on what I think will make an agronomist successful 10 and even 20 years into the future.