Ask An Agronomist: Five Questions That Can Create Positive Transformation in Your Farm

A trusted expert can be a huge factor in making your operation successful. Financial advisors, tax accountants, trained mechanics and marketing advisors all add value to your operation. The right agronomist is just as important to your profitability, but it’s not always easy to identify who is the best fit for you and your farm. We reached out to our network of ICL agronomists to learn what to look for when choosing a partner.

July 3, 2023
3 mins

Whether or not you have an agronomist today, the following questions can help you either identify a specialist that is best for you and your operations’ needs – or strengthen the relationship you already hold.

#1. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your career?

An agronomist’s answer will provide valuable insights about their career experience, industry observations and knowledge base. Agronomists who have been in the field for several years have witnessed many advancements in technology, such as the integration of GPS, soil and tissue testing, and other innovative tools. They may even bring insights into regulatory policy changes and their impact on farming practices.

Their reaction to the question is just as important as the answer. Change is challenging, but it’s the norm in agriculture where Mother Nature is in charge. How they have responded to evolving practices helps you determine whether this individual embraces change. At ICL, we believe a valuable partner in agronomy will welcome the challenge of helping you do more with less while improving long-term financial viability and environmental sustainability.

For less seasoned agronomists, mentorship and a solid support system from their company can help them gain valuable experience and become established in the industry. At ICL, we prioritize mentoring among our agronomy professionals. Even when an agronomist may not have the experience themselves, they have a vast network of experts they can call upon.

#2. What are the latest advancements and trends in agricultural technology?

A great offshoot to the first question is inquiring about the latest advancements in achieving higher yields and improved sustainability. This question provides a wider window into their openness to explore the viability of new practices and technologies.

Expand by asking about recent research they have engaged in or followed. This will provide insight into their willingness to engage in continued education, their collaboration with others, and their ability to bring those insights to your operation. Involvement in research trials indicates the agronomist has likely worked closely with farmers and researchers. It demonstrates their practical, first-hand experience and the value they place on cultivating new solutions through working with others.

#3. What types of certifications, continuing education programs, or events do you attend?

Agronomy professionals have several opportunities to continue their education. The American Society of Agronomy offers voluntary professional certifications. Maintaining Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) or Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) designations require continuing education hours (CEUs). Credits are offered by numerous sources online and in person. Designations achieved are benchmarks for practicing agronomy professionals in the United States and Canada. Each requires further education, application of experience and ethics, and even completion of exams – and each stringent standard throughout the process must be met to receive the designation.

The American Society of Agronomy notes that certifications demonstrate the commitment and experience to make a difference in a client’s business. A certified agronomist provides growers with assurances that the individual has met industry standards.

Agronomists who attend industry conferences, meetings and conventions tend to be dedicated to continuous learning and knowledge sharing. It shows their commitment to professional growth and collaboration, enhancing the expertise and opportunities they can offer you.

#4. How can I use fertilizer more effectively to ensure productivity, profitability and sustainability?

Optimizing fertilizer is key to your profitability. Asking about effective fertilizer use taps into the agronomist’s expertise and together, you can develop customized nutrient management plans.

An agronomist will likely recommend using a combination of decision-making tools such as soil testing, tissue testing and remote sensing. Understanding each crop’s unique needs and when to time fertilizer application are important to optimize the response to applied nutrients. An agronomist may suggest using multi-nutrient products containing at least three essential primary or secondary macronutrients. They may also offer ideas about new fertilizer technologies such as biostimulants, fertilizer stabilizers and enhancers.

An agronomist’s responses to these questions reveal their end goal: to sell you a product – or to truly help your operation.

#5. How can I improve the productivity and sustainability of my farm?

Agronomists are specially trained to maximize outputs while minimizing environmental impacts. Because each farm is unique, assessing your farm’s specific needs and challenges is an essential first step to achieving your seasonal and long-term goals. Recommendations should be tailored based on their expertise – but also from assessing your fields, soil, precipitation levels, crop mix, previous nutrient management plans, and more. Their job is to ensure you have the best knowledge possible to enhance the long-term viability of your operation.