The terms “agronomist” and “agrologist” are often confused in today’s ag industry. From chat forums to conferences, farmers are presented with a multiplicity of options for crop consulting, but even if they’re used every day, it’s not always clear which options will best suit an individual farmer’s needs.
Mark Bratrud, a farmer with consulting experience based near Weyburn, Sask., believes that it’s crucial for farmers to know the differences between the professions, so they can get the right advice and the best value for their money.
“Farmers really need to understand who they’re hiring,” says Bratrud. “Specialists can have any kind of title — agronomist, agrologist, certified crop adviser — but you have to understand where that person is coming from, and discuss with them what you want to see from them.”
The terms “agronomist” and “agrologist” are not, in fact, interchangeable. By definition, “agrology” refers to the application of science to agriculture. The category of agrology includes a large number of job descriptions, from agricultural land management to the protection of ecosystems. In Canada, agrology is a regulated profession, and over 10,000 agrologists are registered across the country.
“Agronomists,” by contrast, apply scientific knowledge specically to crop production.
“Agronomy is a particular type of work that an agrologist would do,” explains Jim Weir, executive director and registrar for the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists, the provincial regulating body for agrologists. “Agronomists are involved in all the arrangements that go along with field crop production, so farmers can get the most value out of his/her productive land.
“Agronomists have strong backgrounds and are highly educated in the management of field crops and everything that goes along with that,” says Weir. “They can be relied on by farmers.”
Weir explains that agrology can be viewed as a blanket category akin to engineering or law, under which many other professions can be grouped. As with law, individual practitioners must be regulated with a provincial body.
In Canada, all 10 provinces have provincial bodies that regulate the practice of agrology, and these follow the standards outlined in each provincial act designed to protect the interests of the public within its jurisdiction. In Manitoba, the MIA’s authority comes from the Agrologists’ Act of Manitoba. Its mandate is to protect the public interest through professional regulation, by “overseeing the admission and registration of agrologists and taking action regarding unauthorized practice.”
A newer national body is Agrologists Canada, which according to Weir is a kind of “servant” to the provincial regulatory bodies. “It’s a national body comprised of the 10 provincial regulating institutes, and its purpose basically is to manage compliance by the institutions with the agreements on internal trade,” he says.
Most of the provincial legislation with regard to the practice of agrology was enacted several decades ago, but Weir says that most of the provincial Acts have been updated and modernized as necessary. “We’re always looking at the rules we have to operate by to make sure that they’re current,” he says.
As for the regulation of individual practitioners, Weir explains that the registration process is relatively simple. Agrologists must meet a national educational standard and then complete several non-academic requirements to achieve full status. Registration grants everyone security in the knowledge that the professional is fully qualified.
The right advice
Bratrud believes not all professions are created equal, and it’s in the farmer’s interests to know exactly who they are hiring and how the working relationship will function.
“Know who you’re hiring, and make sure you understand where they’re coming from,” he says. “Are they coming to it from a sales point of view or are they just passionate about agriculture and want to know everything there is to know about agronomy?”
According to Bratrud, farmers have ever increasing options for advice on crop production, including line companies which offer crop consulting, independent agronomists and crop consultants like Agri-Trend which work with large networks of people, to name just a few.
He says his own experience as a private consultant taught him there is a grey area in almost every case where a specialist is hired, and it pays to spell out the details of the contract right from the beginning. “One of the biggest things we struggled with, with other producers, was knowing where the boundaries were — what we’d do and what services we’d provide,” he says.
Good communication is vital in ensuring everyone gets what they need from the relationship. The farmer should find out whether and how often the consultant plans to visit his or her operation, and what kinds of services they provide. But even this should be balanced with a good dose of perspective on the farmer’s part.
“When we do something on our farm we’re always looking for information. I want the complete, unbiased truth, and then I’ll make the decisions,” Bratrud says.
Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]