Expert adviser whos happiest in the field

Article taken from the Agronomist & Arable Farmer, written by Chris Lyddon

Neil Buchanan, winner of the DuPont-sponsored Agronomist of the Year category of the 2013 FarmBusiness Food and Farming Industry Awards, impressed the judges as the ideal example of an expert in agronomy who knows his stuff and can communicate it to his grower clients effectively and in a way that helps their business to achieve sustainable profitability.

Mr Buchanan works for Agrovista, and is based at the company’s Shrewsbury office.  He came in to the industry in 1979 as a trainee for Hoechst, having graduated from UCW Aberystwyth in 1977 with a BSc in agricultural botany, and spent two years as a farm manager in Oxfordshire.

He moved to Shropshire in 1984 and became a full-time agronomist in 1988.  As well as working with the Shrewsbury sales team, he has an additional role as technical support manager for the western side of the country.  He covers an on-farm business of around 5,700 hectares, which includes all the combinable crops, potatoes, sugar beet and maize and varies between fee-paying clients and the traditional bundled business.

Whole-farm Agronomy

Mr Buchanan stresses his belief in providing whole-farm agronomy and insists attention to detail is vital.

The range of services he provides is vast, covering everything from traditional crop-walking and day-to-day farm management, to advice on crop marketing, land acquisition, environmental schemes, contract farming operations, as well as sourcing staff and mentoring trainee agronomists.  All this keeps him busy, but is never happier than when out in the field where theory meets practice.

Autumn remains a key period in his year.  Successful establishment of new season crops underpins decent yields, he says.  Get it wrong and the crop remains compromised for its duration.  This was a hard lesson learned by many last year.  He finds the whole interaction of soil management, cultivation technique and establishment method fascinating and complex.

“There are so many different options to try to understand and the only way to do that is to get your boots on,” he says.

“Spending money on a new system has to be carefully thought through, and must not be judged after just one season.  Get it right and all your agronomic goals seem that much easier to achieve.”

Mr Buchanan still manages to find time to be a BASIS examiner, as well as actively mentoring young trainee agronomists.  Well aware of the ageing demographic of this industry, he believes it is essential to encourage and support youngsters into farming and agronomy.

New Blood Needed

“We need new blood to help embrace the new technology.  Without this we’ll struggle to meet the challenges facing our industry,” he says.

“Never make promises that you can’t keep.  The element of trust is key in this job.  Listen to your clients carefully and then their problems seem easier to solve.

“Never forget that most farming operations are a team.  All have a role to play, and sharing your plans and concerns always pays dividends.

“Involving other farm staff can be hugely beneficial in securing a successful result for the business. 

“Remember, a warm kitchen and an extra piece of cake on a cold, wet day makes it all seem worthwhile.”

His best tip?  “Rain forecast, combine broken down…. Just leave quietly!”

  • The Agronomist of the Year category of the 2013 Farm Business Food and Farming Industry Awards was sponsored by DuPont.


03 February 2014

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