What's an Agronomist Anyway?

22 years since I graduated college and my mom still thinks it means I spent a lot of money to make mud pies. If you ask the average person on the street half of the time they can’t even pronounce it. Ask my kids and the answers range from earthy science to what keeps the horse alive. Obviously, the horse is important to someone in our house because her answer to everything revolves around him.

I had a conversation with a colleague which they proclaimed “All I need to do is get this agronomy thing figured out and I will have all the information I need to be a successful agronomist.” This makes total sense. I’ve worked with people who read a book about soil and dubbed themselves an agronomist.  If that’s all it took, I wish someone would have told me before I spent all those years working in the field and paid all that money for college. A farmer’s tan is not as attractive as one might think and I could have spent the money on something else, like... Well, I’m not sure what. I am sure it would not have been as expensive as the piece of paper I got at graduation.

Googles definition of agronomy is the science of soil management and crop production. So, an agronomist must be the person who helps the soil and the plant get along, Right?!

Here is what it means to me.

On any given day as challenges and questions are posed to me I have to think like a biologist, a chemist, a botanist, sometimes a pathologist, and if I’m really confident an entomologist. Usually, I defer to experts on the pathology and entomology. I know enough to be dangerous and kill stuff. I have to understand how fertilizers and pesticides work, what they are used for, and how to apply them. I have to take into consideration environmental factors, economic implications, and management limitations or expectations. I need to be aware of all the different types of farming systems and have enough knowledge on the subject to make reasonable decisions for my growers. I need to understand the type of grower I’m working with. What their needs are and what they are willing to pay for them. I have to understand their challenges and offer solutions they can and are willing to implement. As if that isn’t enough I have to communicate effectivity with whatever type of grower, farmer, or producer I’m working with. They need to have a clear understanding of what I can do for them, and what it is they need to do. Sometimes, as hard as it is for me, I have to be nice.

All of this requires a lot of talking and asking on my part. I’m to the point I think I should have a questionnaire for people to fill out. The thing is as I ask a question the answer may lead to another question I might have and it is all specific to that grower’s situation. And this brings me to what I think agronomy is…. the relationship I build with the farmer, grower, or producer I’m working with at that moment. Just as the plants are in a relationship with the soil they are growing in, I’m forming a relationship with the person I’m working with. It’s more than just figuring out this agronomy thing so I can have world domination. I’ve been at this for a while and I have yet to totally figure it out. It’s more than reading a book, it requires reading and learning constantly. It’s the relationship I’m willing to build with growers to ensure they can grow the best crop, have the best yield, or have the most productive garden they have ever had.  

When people ask me what an agronomist is I say “It's the person who helps people build a relationship between the soil, the plant, and the person responsible for them.”