The evolution of agronomic practices

As the trade of farming has increased its footprint around the globe, the need for information about crops, soil and weather patterns has increased, as well. This need for information and scientific understanding led to the creation of the agronomist role.

Traditionally, agronomists work together with growers, providing information to help care for plants and crops, including contributing data on roots, weeds, pests, erosion, climate and fungi. Agronomists are known for looking at agriculture from a holistic perspective, considering a range of factors and assisting growers in both finding solutions to threats and identifying new opportunities.

Today, technology plays a larger role in agriculture than ever before. Technology has also driven a change in the role of the agronomist – both widening and deepening the amount of information available and the possibilities for data utilization. “At one point, agronomists were specialists,” says Scott Cogdill, Ag Solutions Commercial Product Manager for Proagrica. “The biggest change in the role is the current shift to generalist. There is now so much focus on sales, business and operations, in addition to the core agronomy.”

As technology continues to advance, both driving and keeping up with the pace of change in the ag industry overall, this can mean more change is ahead for agronomists. So, what will this mean for growers, their relationship with agronomists and the way each role in the ag supply chain utilizes technology going forward?

From Crisis to Current State

As many ag professionals remember, the early 1980s brought a farm recession and financial crisis. Record production from family farms led to a glut of farm commodities, which forced prices down. This, in combination with a US export decline of 20-percent following the 1979 Soviet Union embargo, caused farm debt to hit an all-time high. Farmland value dropped 60-percent across the Midwest from 1981 to 1985.

Foreclosures on family farms rose to new heights with economists reporting that more than 33-percent of farmers experienced financial trouble. Farmers who tried to expand by purchasing land during the ag boom of the 1970s were hit the hardest. Many rural communities in the Midwest were entirely wiped out.

The value of farmland bottomed out in 1987 and a slow recovery began. New technologies began to emerge, driving a faster pace of change and new opportunities for ag businesses. “The 80s farm crisis was a turning point. The industry shifted from many small farms to the consolidation of growers; it brought in an age of consolidation in all areas,” says Mr. Cogdill. “Now, farmers and agronomists are all generalists. They have to manage everything, from identifying weeds to managing finance and rebate programs.”

Looking at Today’s Technology

Over the last 50 years, the entire agriculture industry has gone through a technological revolution. Advances in machinery, technology and connectivity have expanded the speed, scale and productivity of farming activities. And, as the industry continues to improve standards, the demand for food continues to grow. As time moves on, there is greater need for food than ever before. Additionally, farmers face increasing environmental and social pressures, which are driving a push for a reduction in the use of chemicals and calls for more sustainable practices.

To meet these growing needs and challenges, agronomists are utilizing data and prioritizing connectivity in new ways. Data that provides valuable insights regarding crops, weather, soil and livestock is now essential for agronomists to help farmers identify future opportunities or risks. While there are new technologies emerging all the time, there are a number of things on which successful tech tools focus:

Improving efficiency. Making farming more efficient allows for greater profits, while reducing the time-consuming guess-work of operating without accurate data. “Improving efficiency should always be the first goal,” says Mr. Cogdill. “If you remove your pain points, you are able to design connectivity solutions and solve problems, making the relationship between the agronomist and the farmer more efficient, as well.”

Adding value. Accurate data is the best tool for making changes and improvements. It helps to predict future risks and opportunities, and it can allow for tracking and trending business information year over year. Clean, reliable data can lead to improved sales, reduced waste and can allow agronomists to serve their ever-growing list of clients. “Traceability, sustainability. These are important things and agronomists can help farmers deliver these things with data that is ready to act upon by using technology like Proagrica’s Sirrus platform. Sirrus gives you in-field mobility and in-office proficiency with or without wireless connectivity – you can access your data anywhere. Another benefit of Sirrus is that it seamlessly syncs with agX®. This means you can easily share information with customers, coworkers and all other agX-compliant applications, which drives easy communication and connectivity,” says Mr. Cogdill.

Driving decision-making. Data-driven decision making means a grower is able to make decisions based on data and metrics, rather than relying only on intuition. “Decision-making tools allows agronomists to gain insights and growers to be more connected to information. Programs, like Proagrica’s Sirrus platform, allow innovators to create industry standards up and down the ag supply chain and give growers the ability to take advantage of the opportunities created,” says Mr. Cogdill.

Inter-connectivity between platforms. There are many programs, apps and connectivity tools that offer solutions to data storage and aggregation challenges. However, if the tools selected do not communicate with one another, the business will not realize the actual value of the tools. “With set standards and inter-connectivity between platforms, you are able to do more for growers than ever before. There is no work duplication, reduced errors and you have standardized formats that can be leveraged to gain insights and visibility,” says Mr. Cogdill.

Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today

Currently, with the incredible pace of change in agri-technology, forward-thinking industry leaders are now taking a critical look at the actual result of this extreme rate of development. “The pace that new tech products hit the market is exponentially fast,” says Mr. Cogdill. “There are agri-tech companies that ramp up quickly and, within a few years, they no longer exist. When investing in technology, we need to ask if the tech actually solves a problem. We need to look for actionable advancements.”

When considering what technology will move your business forward, it is important to ask a few questions:

  • What are the company’s long-term and short-term goals?
  • What is the company’s need for data?
  • How will we use the data?
  • What is the basic problem this tech will solve?

In developing tools like Sirrus, Proagrica’s experts considered the challenges of the ag industry as a whole, ways to improve the relationship between agronomists and growers and what the industry would need in the future, including improving the areas of:

  • Collaboration
  • Sustainability
  • Business Visibility
  • Traceability
  • Compliance
  • Operational Efficiency

Finding Support and Success

Going forward, agronomy and its role within agriculture will continue to grow and evolve with the needs of the industry. “Right now, the data revolution is in the early stages. The industry is in pieces because we have so many disconnected systems and solutions. However, through the role of agronomists, we can greatly improve decision access. Who knows what else the future will bring? The industry is ever-evolving. Now, we are at a point to make life more connected and more engaged,” says Mr. Cogdill.


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