Crop production has become much more complex and technically challenging over the past 20 years. It is increasingly difficult to balance the many demands of a successful farming operation, including the agronomic management of many different crops, crop scouting, long-term crop planning, input planning and crop marketing.
These days, more and more farmers are using agronomists or crop advisors to help manage all of these aspects of a successful operation.
Farmers considering hiring someone to provide crop production advice need to evaluate whether or not an agronomist would benefit their operation. Farmers hiring agronomists should go through a process to select an advisor that would be a good fit with both the farm operation and the farm management philosophy.
If you think you might need an agronomist, consider these questions:
- Are you satisfied with crop yields and management on your farm?
- Are you achieving crop yields that reflect your inputs?
- Are you comfortable with your crop management knowledge and the decisions you make?
- Do you have the time to scout all your fields regularly?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may not benefit personally or financially from hiring an agronomist.
However, if you feel you are not optimizing your crop yields and there is opportunity to enhance your level of crop management, or you do not have time to spend in the field to assess crop conditions, you could benefit from an independent source of technical expertise.
Do you feel you would benefit from assistance such as the following:
- Recommendations on crop rotations and crop variety options?
- Interpretation of soil test reports and developing fertilizer plans?
- Weed identification and crop growth staging, including herbicide options?
- Identifying diseases and insects, including the economic thresholds necessary for control, and effective pesticide options?
If you feel a dependable source for agronomic information would be helpful, you might benefit from hiring an agronomic consultant.
Selecting an Agronomist
Hiring an agronomist is costly. A consulting agronomist must be a good fit with your farm operation and your farm management philosophy. Poor or misleading advice could be very costly in terms of reduced yields and profit. However, excellent, timely advice could mean significant improvements in crop yields, profitability and, ultimately, your well-being and peace of mind. The selection process will take some time, research and investigation, but will be worth the effort!
Think about what you require :
- What types of knowledge would the agronomist need?
- What specific services do you want the agronomist to provide (soil sampling, fertilizer recommendations, crop scouting for weeds, insects or disease, grain storage or crop marketing advice)?
- Would you require advice on a regular basis or on an as-needed basis?
- How would you want information reported: verbally, in written form, or by e-mail?
Next obtain names of agronomists working in your area. Talk to other farmers, industry representatives and ag retailers. Ask for honest opinions about each potential candidate to develop a sense of their reputation. You can also post a job advertisement.
After you develop a list of potential advisors, narrow down your list to three or four agronomists that have good reputations and qualifications. Set up an interview with each of these.
At the meetings, ask each candidate about their education, training, knowledge, experience, services offered, crop advising philosophy, information sources and finally their fees. Here are some suggested questions for each category.
Education and professional training:
Ask about the agronomist’s training.
- Was a college diploma completed with a specialization in soil, crop science or agronomy?
- Was a university degree completed with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with a specialization in soils, crop science or agronomy?
- Was the institution in Western Canada? If not, is the training relevant to your farming area?
Determine their credentials:
There is more than one standard.
- A Professional Agrologist (P.Ag.) designation indicates a member in good standing of the Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba Institute of Agrologists with an agriculture degree from a recognized university.
- A Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) designation does not necessarily mean the individual has college or university training, but does indicate that they have passed a series of written examinations, which allows the use of the CCA designation.
Knowledge and experience:
Develop an understanding of the agronomist’s knowledge and professional experience. Make sure they have expertise with the soils and crops of your region.
- Ask about their experience with the crops you grow on your farm.
- Ask if the agronomist is familiar with soil sampling, testing and interpretation and knowledgeable about soil fertility and fertilizer management, weeds, registered herbicides, diseases, registered fungicides, insect pests and registered insecticides for the crops you grow.
- Ask where the agronomist obtains information and recommendations.
Services offered and availability:
Inquire about the services the agronomist can offer, and what level of availability they will have to spend time with you.
- Will the agronomist provide all services, or can you pick and choose which services you would like to receive?
- How frequently will your fields be scouted?
- How will fields be scouted?
- Will summer staff be used for field scouting or will the agronomist do all field scouting?
- Will the agronomist provide verbal reports immediately after field inspection or will results be communicated through paper reports, text messages or e-mails?
- Will the agronomist take time to show you soil or crop problems in the field?
- Will the agronomist soil sample all your fields and pay for soil analysis? If so, when and how will fields be sampled? Which lab does the analysis? Does the agronomist develop fertilizer recommendations?
- In the winter season, will the agronomist meet with you to provide advice and assistance in planning for next year?
You will need to develop a sense of each agronomist’s professionalism.
- Is the agronomist well organized, act kindly and professionally?
- Check out the agronomist’s vehicle. Is it well organized with various tools and equipment needed (shovel, trowel, soil sampler, sample bags for soils and plant tissue samples, information booklets and reference manuals)?
- How does each agronomist handle your questions?
- Do you find it easy to talk with the agronomist?
- Does the agronomist explain things clearly, fluently and in plain language?
- Do you feel you could develop a good rapport?
Crop advising philosophy:
Develop a sense of each agronomist’s basic philosophy about cropping systems, crop input management and yield goals to see how they compare with yours.
- Ask about the agronomist’s opinions on crop production in comparison with your crop management and goals.
Information Sources and Backup Support:
The technical aspects of crop production are constantly changing. Find out how each agronomist you interview keeps current with new technologies, products and techniques.
- Is the agronomist familiar with the local, regional and province agronomic research being conducted by various agencies? How does the agronomist access this research?
- How does the agronomist develop recommendations for each crop?
- How does the agronomist stay current on new technologies and keep up-to-date on issues such as new insect, weed or disease problems?
- Is the agronomist familiar with new precision technologies, GPS technology, and yield mapping? What are the agronomist’s views on these technologies?
- Is the agronomist affiliated with other agronomists or a company that provides backup support? Where else does the agronomist go for backup support?
Fees and expenses:
Determine the costs, fees and expenses. Make sure you have a clear, written list of services provided.
- What does the agronomist charge? Is it on a per acre or hourly basis?
- How will you be billed? Annually, or for the time and services requested each month?
- Are there any additional fees or hidden costs for services that could pop up once you make a commitment?
- What is the estimated total cost for consultation for one year? How does that compare to the potential gross and net revenue of your farm?
Close with a contract
To help select one agronomist, rate each advisor for each category using, “E for excellent,” “S for satisfactory,” or “U for unsatisfactory.”
Many farmers still like to close a deal with a simple handshake; however, it is often wise to have a lawyer prepare a simple contract including items such as the following:
- Roles of both parties.
- Access to land.
- Details for how the work is to be completed with the type and frequency of reporting and recommendations.
- Sanitation procedures to be used by the advisor to ensure diseases or pests are not brought onto the farm or spread between fields.
- Ownership and confidentiality of your farm information.
- Insurance and liability requirements.
- Fee structure and payments for various services.
- Who pays for materials or extra services such as sampling and laboratory analysis.
- Termination of conditions including contract cancellation.
- Dispute resolution process.
- Signatures and dates.
This is a brief summary of suggestions to help you hire an agronomist that will be a good fit with your operation.