Careers in Horticulture - Agronomist

Article taken from Horticulture Week, April 2017.

 

An agronomist helps commercial growers with the incredibly complex operation of managing the needs of their crops. From soil conditioners to crop-protection products such as herbicides and fungicides, the agronomist will use their expertise to advise growers on what their plants/ trees need to produce the best-quality crop.

What is best about being an agronomist?

"Being outdoors all of the time," states Paul Bennett, technical head of fruit for agronomy firm Agrovista UK. He also "loves the fact that you get to meet a huge variety of people - growers and other people who work farms." Because growers rely on their agronomist to give them the best advice to produce the best crop, there is definitely a sense of achievement when things go well, he adds. Andy Richardson, joint managing director/senior consultant at AB (Alliumsand  Brassicas) Agronomy, also says thereis something satisfying about "being an integral part of growing and delivering a high-quality, healthy product to the end consumer".

What kind of skills, attributes, knowledge and experience do you feel are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment - and why?

Communication/people skills

"Excellent communication skills are a must - the ability to explain problems/ solutions clearly and concisely is a major part of what we do," says Richardson. Bennett adds: "The single most important thing is the capability  to get on with people. People skills are  absolutely vital."

Drive and enthusiasm


Agrovista UK head of human resources Tracey Winson runs a training scheme for the firm's fruit agronomists where they gain a BASIS certificate in crop protection (horticulture). "I have every confidence that the training we can offer  through BASIS and our in-house team can give people the level of technical knowledge that they need," she says. "But what we cannot give people is that drive, enthusiasm and energy you need to become a successful agronomist. That's what we look for when we are recruiting."

Independence

Winson also says agronomists need to demonstrate initiative and be quite independent "because you will be working  on your own (geographical) area". 

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced  that they possess these qualities? 

Richardson says he looks for a good background in plant biology "We would look for at least an A level in biology or combined science. A degree would be preferable," he says. Bennett notes that agronomists are normally educated to degree level."If you are capable of being educated to degree level this just demonstrates that you have the ability to study. So it doesn't really matter exactly what the subject is. We teach people what they need to know for the agronomist role. We took on a trainee two years ago who was only about six months out of horticultural college. I knew straight away that he was the right person for the job because he was so personable and so competent." Richardson adds that BASIS certificates are essential for advisers but "these  courses run annually and lack of these qualifications would not stop me from employing the right person".

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from other horticulture  roles?

Bennett says: "We recently took on an ex-soft-fruit farm manager who had been in that role for 10-15 years and his skills are definitely going to be useful for us." Richardson adds that those with transferable skills are those with "hands-on growing experience but who maybe lack formal qualifications particularly if they have been managing planting or harvest gangs. They  generally have good communication skills, are used to the long hours and are passionate about growing.They may lack confidence on the technical aspects of agronomy, but these can always be taught on the job."

 

08 May 2017

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