It’s wise to think critically about any advice you’re given. Consider: Is this based on solid information such as field trials or other producers’ experiences, or is it just opinion?
You get crop management information from a variety of sources. These include farm newspapers, retailers, manufacturers, government extensions, independent consultants and online sources, not to mention your friends, colleagues and neighbours. Step one in gleaning the best from these sources is to consider their backgrounds.
1. ASSESS THE KNOWLEDGE BASE
Recognize that not everyone has the same calibre of knowledge in all areas, so a one-stop-shop approach often doesn’t make sense. Many top producers use the services of a number of different agronomists, each offering a particular area of expertise. For example, you might choose to work with a manufacture-provided agronomist and supplement this advice with a fee-for-service independent consultant who can also offer financial and marketing advice.
2. COMMUNICATE YOUR OBJECTIVES
In order to get the best advice for your farm, you need to begin by zoning in on your objectives. Ask yourself: “What are my primary objectives for my crop this year?” It may seem like an obvious question, but think it through. Is your priority to produce a high yield? Is quality more important than quantity?
Do you know what you need to produce in order to achieve a return on your investment (ROI)?
Once you’re clear on your objectives, communicate them clearly to your agronomist. Give some thought to the questions you’d like answered and the areas where you could use the most help, and prepare a list of questions in advance of your meeting. Be specific about your information needs, expectations, and goals so your agronomist will understand what you’re looking for and be able to help.
3. BE PROACTIVE
Growers who get the most from their agronomists plan ahead. While you will inevitably need your agronomist in reactive situations (such as when you’re concerned about a particular pest), a proactive, long-term approach will yield the best results.
Build a calendar with your agronomist(s) to establish meeting times throughout the year. For example, you might want to meet once prior to seeding and/or prior to emergence, then later in the spring to assess how your crop is coming in, then again in summer to scout the fields, and finally pre or post harvest to evaluate results from the year and to plan ahead for next season.
The benefit of this method is that you can get more comprehensive advice so you can avoid issues this year and make preparations to support next year’s crop. This is particularly important when planning crop rotations.
By working with your agronomist on a regular basis, you will establish a stronger working relationship with him or her. That means you’ll get more tailored, insightful advice and you might even have better access in high demand periods.
4. WORK WITH EXPERTS WHO KNOW YOUR AREA AND YOUR FARM
Best practices for your farm vary depending on your specific geographic region. Even your neighbour’s field could be different from yours. It’s important, therefore, not to make assumptions and to work with experts who are familiar with your area, and even better, who know your farm. This is another reason why working proactively on an on-going basis with one or more trusted agronomic advisors is a good idea — you can work with people who’ve spent time in your fields and know the ins and outs of your farm.
If an agronomist is scouting for you, make sure that he or she checks all your fields, particularly if they are far apart. You could be surprised by the differences.
5. EVALUATE THE ADVICE YOU’RE GIVEN
It’s wise to think critically about any advice you’re given. Consider: Is this based on solid information such as field trials or other producers’ experiences, or is it just opinion? Is it coming from someone you trust with whom you’ve built a solid relationship?
When in doubt, simply ask for the evidence and review the information. Also, take into consideration whether the advice fits with your values and principles. For example, do the recommendations support your approach to sustainable agriculture? And does the advice fit with the objectives and priorities you’ve identified?
There’s no question we’re living in an information age. The role of trusted advisors is to help you cut through the clutter and provide you with guidance and support. With their help to supplement your own knowledge and gut instinct, you can have confidence you’re making the best decisions for your farm.
Ed Thiessen is the technical crop manager for Syngenta Crop Protection Canada, Inc.