Shropshire Star

Newport students get insight into role of modern agronomist

Agriculture students from leading universities including Harper Adams have taken part in a competition designed to provide a unique insight into the role of the modern agronomist.

Students at a Helix farm

The initiative was organised by Hutchinsons, and attracted around 120 students from Writtle University College, The Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Harper Adams University (HAU), Nottingham University, Riseholme College and Bishop Burton College.

Students had the opportunity to visit one of three Helix demonstration farms in Oxfordshire, Yorkshire and Shropshire, where they were given practical demonstrations of the roles, responsibilities and technology available to agronomists in the field. Attendees then had to answer questions about what they had learnt, from which three winners were chosen, each taking home £100 prize money.

“Since Hutchinsons was formed 85 years ago, the role of the agronomist has changed markedly, and particularly so in the last 10 years, so we wanted to give students a taste of what the job entails, and the technologies available to help us make better decisions for growers,” the firm’s technical director, Stuart Hill said.

“The agronomist’s role now goes far beyond advising on crop protection, covering anything from strategic business planning and costings, integrated crop management and agroecology, soils, nutrition, traits and digital technology.”

This holistic approach to crop management was clearly demonstrated by agronomist Amie Hunter, who explained how crop protection was just one of the four pillars of integrated crop management, the other three being; agronomic strategy, risk assessment, and cultural methods.

ICM covered everything from rotation, variety choice, and cultivation policy, to cover cropping, nutrition and crop protection strategies. All were interlinked and required a clear understanding of the processes involved in order to make effective decisions, she noted.

“ICM isn’t new, but it can be quite hard to manage given that there are so many different factors to consider. This is where technology such as Omnia is really helping growers and us as agronomists, by bringing everything together in one accessible platform.”

“The industry has developed a huge ability to measure data in the past few years, so the challenge now is how we use this effectively to make more informed decisions.”

One of those attending the Oxfordshire event was Sarah Langford, from a family farm in Suffolk, studying for a Graduate Diploma in Agriculture at RAU in Cirencester. She is also the author of Rooted: Stories of Life, Land and a Farming Revolution.

“Two things have really stood out for me: One is the current level of sophistication, it’s fascinating to see the amount of data that can be collected down to a square-metre level, and how different data sources can be layered to help make decisions.

“The second thing is that it’s very clear ‘business as usual’ simply isn’t an option for farmers. It’s refreshing to hear an agronomy company being forward thinking and realistic about the direction that farming’s heading in, talking about areas like soil and agroecology. It just shows how multi dimensional farming is.”

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