If you love science but the thought of spending all day working in a laboratory doesn't sound appealing, then a career in agronomy may be for you. Agronomists work with farmers to improve their crop yields using their knowledge of chemistry, biology, earth science and ecology.
What does an agronomist do?
The role of an agronomist is multifaceted. They help farmers make the best use of natural resources, work to identify pest infestations, improve soil quality, monitor water tables, implement plant and harvesting cycles and even monitor animal welfare.
To do this effectively agronomists must have good knowledge of the earth sciences, excellent communication skills and the ability to solve problems. A typical day could include helping farmers to identify pests, monitoring and managing crops during the growing cycle or carrying out presentations on the latest productivity enhancements.
Responsibilities of an agronomist
Help farmers make the best use of natural resources.
Help farmers choose the right seeds for their soil.
Maintain proficiency in the latest farming innovations, crop nutrient products and farming best practices.
Help identify weeds and recommend appropriate treatments.
Work with farmers to highlight new technologies which could improve efficiencies, crop yields and profitability.
Carry out soil sampling and develop appropriate nutrient management and fertiliser recommendations.
Make recommendations to farmers about which crops would be most productive for their soil type and geographical location.
Carry out experimental plantings to prove the viability of new crop varieties.
Because the role is so varied and requires many different skill sets, many agronomists choose to specialise in one particular area of expertise. There are four specialisations of agronomy:
Research agronomists work to improve crop productivity by examining genetics and crop husbandry techniques. Much of their work takes place in the laboratory but they also carry out extensive fieldwork. To be a research agronomist you will need a degree in agronomy or a related science field.
Crop production and management
This type of agronomist works with farmers to help manage crop cycles and implement more efficient farming practises. The role is mostly based outdoors with periodic visits to the laboratory for research. To carry out this role you will need a degree in agricultural crop management. Excellent communication skills are also required because you will have to explain the latest research to farmers of all generations.
Agronomists specialising in sustainable development work as consultants helping farmers to implement the latest environmentally friendly and sustainable farming methods. This is one of the fastest-growing areas of farm management since most traditional farming practices will need to be overhauled over the next few years if farms are to produce the amount of food required. To carry out this role you will need to complete a course in sustainable agriculture which are available at most agricultural colleges across the UK.
Soil and water management
Agronomists specialising in soil and water management implement best practices to improve water quality, reduce the risk of flooding and control erosion. They typically spend most of their time outdoors but may also spend time in the office drawing up plans. Jobs in this area are suitable for people with a scientific or engineering background. A BASIS Soil and Water Management Certificate is also required. Courses for this are available from agricultural colleges across the UK.
What’s it like working as an agronomist?
A typical day for an agronomist varies according to the season. The spring/summer months are primarily seeding and growing seasons. This will involve the agronomist visiting farms to carry out soil sampling and monitor plant health. Any issues which show up during this time will be recorded so that they can be dealt with during the Autumn/Winter harvest season.
During the Autumn/Winter months their time will be split between seeking to rectify problems identified during the growing season and carrying out research into new farming techniques. Depending on their specialisation, they may also spend time in the laboratory carrying out soil tests. They will also finalise planting plans for the following season.
Furthermore, agronomists are always busy studying new farming techniques and processes, evaluating new products and consulting with farmers about how they can improve the productivity and sustainability of their farm. They may also work with farmers to carry out experimental plantings of new crops to show them how they perform.
The job varies depending on the region
It is not just the seasons which dictate the workload of an agronomist, the region they work in may also affect working practices.
Typical wheat and barley growing regions such as East Anglia and Oxfordshire will require the agronomist to monitor leaf canopies during the early growing season and then ensure this remains photosynthetically active through to harvest. Crops will also need to be monitored for disease and weed population throughout the season to protect productivity. Sound knowledge of crop production and management techniques along with sustainable development is desirable for working in these regions.
Agronomists working in areas dominated by oilseed rape, such as central England and the North East, will need to monitor the crops carefully during early growth. Oil Seed Rape is susceptible to many pests and diseases in the early growing season, which if left unchecked can decimate yields. The crop is also very atmospheric dependent so variety tests may need to be carried out to find the most productive variety. Agronomists working in these regions will, therefore, benefit from a degree in agricultural crop management.
Agronomists working in areas dominated by Maize crops such as Cornwall, parts of Wales and the North West, will need to monitor sunlight and water levels throughout the year. Maize thrives in areas with warm temperatures and high levels of sunlight. But it does not tolerate water-logging, so maize must be planted in fields with good drainage. Agronomists working in these regions will, therefore, benefit from having a specialist BASIS Soil and Water Management Certificate.
Careers in Agronomy
With the world's population set to grow to around 9.7 billion by 2050, there is an ever-increasing demand for food around the world. This means the long-term prospects for agronomists remain good with the sector set to grow considerably over the next decade. Salaries start at around £24k and rise to around £40k with experience. Freelance consultant agronomists can also make considerably more with commissions from fertiliser and seed merchants.
To find the latest agronomy jobs in your region take a look at our job search site: https://www.agrirs.co.uk/job-search
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