Agronomist


Agronomy integrates all disciplines of crop production, from variety selection to harvesting, and from soil management to entomology. Agronomists often act as the liaison between producers and crop researchers, reviewing detailed research findings and incorporating these into the recommendations they pass on to farmers. Agronomists see to it that new developments in crop varieties, disease and pest control, crop rotation, and tillage systems are implemented into farmers growing operations.

At a glance

Imagine walking into a bright yellow field of chest-high canola bordered only by a bright blue summer sky. The afternoon sun is warm on your face as you shield your eyes to take a closer look at this crop. You are an agronomist and your specialty is canola. Today you are out with a local farmer visiting his fields. He is having a problem with his canola: areas of the field are failing. He has asked you for help in determining why this is happening and for advice on how to ensure this won't happen next year, when he re-seeds the field. As an agronomist, you are a link between the research community that studies crops such as canola and the farming community, so naturally farmers turn to you when their canola begins to fail.You will spend several hours examining the crop, looking for signs of what is killing the plants: is it a disease, an insect, a weed, or a problem in the soil? You take careful notes of your observations, which you will compare later to scientific journals and reference books and discuss with your peers to help you pinpoint the cause. Lucky for you, you?ve seen something similar to this case before and suspect the culprit is a disease specific to this variety of canola. It is too late for sections of this crop, but before seeding next spring, you will help this farmer select a different variety of canola that is resistant to this disease. You will discuss a production package with the farmer that includes variety selection, tillage, seeding rate, optimum seeding date, fertilizer, pest control, and harvest. You will take all the positive results from canola researchers and turn that into the package best suited for this farmer and his fields.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an agronomist:
  • Communicate with the research community to learn of the latest methods for controlling disease, weeds, and insects.
  • Advise farmers on cropping practices that will improve their economic returns as well as protect environmental sustainability.
  • Evaluate new crop cultivars and their potential in a grower's cropping program.
  • Foster the use of best management practices for farming techniques, for example the practice of growing crops and ground-cover plants to minimize soil erosion.
  • Monitor the effects of soil characteristics, water levels, and water drainage on plant growth and implement crop management practices in response to these factors to enhance production.
  • Work with producers to encourage soil testing and plant analysis to determine crop nutrient needs and match fertility programs with those needs.
  • Participate in technology transfer and training activities.
  • Prepare and conduct advisory information sessions and lectures for farmers and other relevant groups.
  • Evaluate crop performance as affected by weather, pests, and management practices, and on occasion give evidence for insurance purposes.

Work environment

Agronomists work in a variety of locations, including:In the office:
  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Researching new technology and new advancements in agriculture
  • Participating on committees for policy development, regulation development, and research and educational program development
In the field:
  • Inspecting and testing crops and soils and problem solving with producers
  • Making presentations to farmers, agriculture businesses, etc., and participating in field tours and training sessions
  • Responding to requests from clients

Where to work

There are a number of places agronomists can find employment. They include:
  • Crop consulting and farm management firms
  • Seed or horticulture companies
  • Agricultural chemical or fertilizer companies
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
  • Colleges and universities Foreign aid agencies

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an agronomist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Economic
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an agronomist is a university undergraduate degree.If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an agronomist, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Agronomy
  • Soil Science
  • Agriculture
  • Botany
  • Applied Science
  • Horticulture
  • Environmental management
In most provinces, agronomists must be certified and a member of a professional association. The requirements for certification and professional status vary among provinces.

Role Model

Don Wentz

Farming came naturally to me. I was raised on a mixed fourteen hundred and forty acre farm in Alberta. As I grew I began to share in the farm work and became a member of the local 4-H Grain Club. My education was directed toward development of the practical agricultural skills required to own and operate the family farm. A diploma in agricultural mechanics was the first step.My education continued and I completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science while still being involved with the family farm. A couple of years later I joined Alberta Agriculture working in the area of irrigation management. I enjoy working with farmers. One of the farmers commented to me when I started this position "I hope you stay awhile, I’m getting sick and tired of training you guys”. I stuck with Alberta agriculture and went on to finish my Masters degree in Agriculture. This gave me valuable training in program management techniques that I would use extensively throughout my career.Self-study is a valuable way to learn the information you need to stay on top of changes in the agriculture industry. I read manuals and handbooks as well as Internet based documents. The Alberta Institute of Agrologists is another excellent way to access professional development opportunities and network at conferences and workshops. Part of my work is to give presentations to agricultural groups and if you have to present it, you have to know it. All of these ways help to keep me current in the dynamic field of agriculture.I recently retired from my position at Alberta Agriculture but I still work as a reduced tillage agronomist on a contract basis. There are lots of opportunities out there for skilled people to contribute to the agriculture industry. Equipment companies, for example, want representatives who know agriculture and can speak about their environmentally friendly tillage machinery. Farmers are encouraged to learn about environmental approaches to farming because it is good for the land and economically beneficial overtime. They are able to see increased yields as the soil improves and reduced costs due to less machinery use.The agronomist profession is never repetitious or boring. The outdoors, variety of work tasks and the wonderful people you meet every day contribute to this great occupation. If agronomy appeals to you, get the skills and education required and get in line for a job. There are many private companies looking for people to talk about their environmentally friendly products. Helping the environment is not a hard thing to sell to farmers.Most of my interaction is with farmers and other colleagues. During a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day I prepare and make presentations, do data processing and write reports. I also need the skills to operate farm machinery, survey, layout research plots and spray herbicides. A key function of my position is as a subject matter specialist speaker at seminars and conferences. Showing farmers environmentally friendly ways of farming is an interesting and enjoyable occupation.Helping farmers to grow alfalfa and grass in saline soil conditions is my greatest accomplishment. I was recognized by the Canadian Society of Agronomy in 2002 with a Distinguished Agronomist Award. The best reward for me though is knowing that my efforts are benefiting the environment and helping to sustain the farming culture I grew up with.