Training the modern day agronomist
The relationship between the farmer and the modern day agronomist has inextricably changed and is continuing to do so ...
John Swire takes a look at how one company has adapted to change and how it is training its agronomists to deal with the demands of modern day agriculture.
Gone are the days when your local agronomist would turn up, walk your crops and leave a couple of cans of spray and some hastily written instructions. Today’s agronomists have to be much more than this according to Stuart Goodinson, managing director of recruitment specialists De Lacey Executive: “Today’s agronomists must be able to have a wide, working knowledge of the industry. If there is one thing I learnt at the Oxford Farming Conference this year was that the farmer of the future is going to need an agronomist who understands everything up and down the supply chain from soil microbiology to the new varieties of red wheat on the market in Canada. Also in these days of higher environmental standards and diminishing numbers of active ingredients the agronomist must be fully aware of every possible action to solve any particular problems.”
One company which recognised that changes were needed in the recruitment and training of agronomists was Hutchinsons, who in response set up its Foundation Programme 10 years ago, under the control of training and communication manager Paul Hobson. Since then the Hutchinsons Foundation has gone from strength to strength.
Today, the three year Hutchinsons Foundation programme is recognised to be the most professional and comprehensive agronomy training programme within the UK, providing the unique opportunity to develop the specialist technical and commercial skills needed by today’s agronomists. “We have developed several aspects of in-house advanced agronomy training by looking at the high level detailed knowledge of how to lift customers yields of wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes to the next level – in a similar way to the YEN project. There are also modules on grass weed control, which nowadays is not just about black-grass control, and also about the possibility of managing problem weeds without glyphosate.”
Since its launch, there have been over 85 agronomists through the programme, establishing Hutchinsons as one of the foremost employers of agronomists in the UK.
New entrants to the Foundation are selected each year as post-graduates from a range of Universities and Colleges, as well as from positions within farm management and other industry related backgrounds – these candidates will be selected by their ability to develop their necessary skills to the highest levels within the profession.
On graduation from the Foundation, agronomists will have achieved BASIS, FACTS, BETA Conservation Management and SWM qualifications, as a minimum standard.
“The significant investment and resource that we have devoted to the Foundation programme over the last decade, and will continue to do so in the future, is a reflection of the importance that we place on attracting the very brightest young people into the industry,” explains Mike Young, Foundation Chairman.
“Our vigorous selection, in conjunction with the professional training programme, ensures that our agronomists are best placed to build long term technical and service support relationships with farmer clients – in the ever-changing landscape of British agriculture.”
Rory Kissock joined the Foundation last year from a background in farm management, where he was responsible for managing over 480 hectares of combinable crops including wheat, rape, barley, peas, beans and pumpkins.
Rory regularly walked the farm with the agronomist which ignited his interest in agronomy. He believes the Hutchinsons Foundation Training Scheme is a brilliant programme which gives all new entrant agronomists the tools and knowledge to be successful.
“On joining the Foundation, I was welcomed into a fantastic group of established agronomists with a wealth of knowledge ready to share with me. Being part of such a successful team is invaluable, and it’s very easy to approach anyone for help or advice.”
Fellow trainee Morven Anderson followed a less obvious route into the Foundation programme. With a distinction in a Biology degree from Aberdeen University, she developed a strong interest in sustainable agriculture, and went on to conduct research on the impact of nitrogenous fertiliser applications on greenhouse gas emissions in an oil palm plantation of Sarawak, Malaysia.
She decided to study further for an MSc in Integrated Pest Management at Harper Adams University – graduating with distinction- and winning the BCPC for the top student.
“The time that I spent conducting my research confirmed my interest in agronomy as a career – a role that allows me to engage with a wide range of people, leading crop management practices and environmental sustainability,” she explains.
“Hutchinsons are unique in their standpoint as a family owned business – and this emphasised to me the importance of long-term grower commitment whilst also investing in a range of innovative technologies to keep our clients at the forefront of the industry.”
“The Foundation training programme came highly recommended and all I can say from my first few months of training is that it does not disappoint. Amidst a rather challenging autumn, my mentor and technical trainers have been an incredible source of knowledge and support; allowing me to experience a diverse range of farm and cropping situations.”
Tom Rouse is an established agronomist, responsible for over 5,000 hectares of mixed arable and forage cropping throughout Suffolk and South Norfolk. In 2013, he applied for the Foundation because it was the most recognised agronomy programme in the industry, and importantly, the programme allowed him to transition progressively from his university studies into a really rewarding and fulfilling working environment.
He looks back on his training through the Foundation as the very best platform from which he could launch his successful agronomy career, leading him to achieve the very impressive accolade of winning the prestigious 2019 Suffolk Agriculture Association Rising Star Scholarship.
Training new recruits to the company through the Foundation Academy is not the end of the matter for Hutchinsons according to Mr Hobson: “Building on the work of the Foundation we have the Academy Programme which is designed to focus on all elements of personal and interpersonal development. Additionally, the rapid changes in the direction of the industry also means that ongoing training is essential: for example, the new Agriculture Bill is going to put a lot of emphasis on IPM and we must make sure that we are ready to help our customers deal with these challenges.”
The Academy Programme is available to all members of the Hutchinson’s team and offers ongoing progressive development of a wide range of management skills as well as marketing, finance and presentation skills. The average age in the industry is getting older and we need to be investing in our younger people to ensure they could become management material in the coming years.