Agronomist Job Description - Definition, Skills and Requirements
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What Does an Agronomist Do?
An agronomist is an expert in the use of scientific methods and techniques to improve farming. Agronomists receive training in the agricultural sciences, studying plants, the soil, agricultural techniques and the rural and urban environment. An agronomist is a multidisciplinary professional, who can work in a wide range of different sectors, including agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry, as well as landscaping and ornamental gardening.
So, what does an agronomist do?
For example, agronomists look at how to improve agricultural production and processing capabilities, provide assistance with the cultivation of fruit and vegetables for the food industry (in open fields, greenhouses and hydroponic systems), help define planting plans, select irrigation techniques and plan harvests. They may also carry out evaluations of the economic aspects and environmental impact of specific crops and provide consultancy and advisory services to the food processing and retail industries.
As well as providing services in the agricultural sector, agronomists also work in forestry and green infrastructure. For example, they may be involved in planning tree removal and replacement programmes, advising on disease prevention and treatment for tree and shrubs, providing landscaping services for public and private parks and gardens or designing green spaces.
Agronomists are also employed in the livestock management and animal husbandry sector, carrying out planning work for industrial livestock production and providing services to farms and livestock holdings producing and selling products of animal origin, wildlife and hunting businesses and aquaculture enterprises.
Agronomists can put their knowledge of agriculture, forestry and the environment to good use to enhance productivity, protect the environment and maximize its value. They may, for example, be involved in developing phytochemicals, fertilizers and biopesticides, in monitoring the use of pesticides, manure and slurry to prevent contamination, or in implementing systems designed to combat soil erosion and the pollution of groundwater, to enable the rehabilitation of agrarian and forest ecosystems, or to preserve and enhance plant, animal and microorganism biodiversity.
Another area in which agronomists may be employed is in the quality certification and analysis of plant, animal and forest-based products. An agronomist may be involved, for example, in monitoring the genetic quality of food products for animal and human consumption, and in particular in checking for the presence of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in the agri-food chain.
Agronomists are also often employed in technical sales roles, i.e. providing sales, consultancy and assistance services for professional agricultural products, for example to companies producing and selling machinery and equipment for agriculture, animal feed, fertilizers or agrochemicals.
Agronomists are also employed by farms, forestry businesses and livestock holdings, agricultural cooperatives and consortia, as well as in the food and agri-food industry, in land-use planning (urban and rural), parks and gardens management, in nurseries and in the technical offices of public bodies. They may be employed or work as self-employed consultants.
As far as their place of work is concerned, a large part of the work of an agronomist is done outside, in the open fields, in close contact with farmers, plants and animals, or else inside, studying and carrying out research in testing laboratories.
Seasonality is a major factor in the job of an agronomist, with work out in the fields tending to mostly take place in a specific period of the year.
The working hours of an agronomist may vary depending on the type of work, but generally tend to be more regular for laboratory-based work. A greater degree of flexibility is required, on the other hand, when working out in the fields or directly running a business.
Agronomist: Duties, Responsibilities and Tasks
The main responsibilities of an agronomist include:
- Preparing and managing plans for crop improvement and enhanced production
- Designing and coordinating land development projects for agricultural land and forests
- Planning and managing production at agricultural businesses, fruit and vegetable farms, livestock holdings and agri-food companies
- Plant treatment and green space management (agricultural, forests and urban environments)
- Laboratory testing of plant and agri-food products
- Agricultural, agri-food, livestock, forestry and environmental quality certification
- Safeguarding environmental sustainability, safety and quality
- Carrying out land-use planning in accordance with applicable legislation
- Landscape design
- Providing management and technical consultancy services to companies and other organizations
- Sale of professional agricultural products and technology
How to Become an Agronomist - Education and Qualifications
An essential requirement to become an agronomist is a technical diploma or degree in Agricultural Science or Environmental Science, Food Science and Technology, Agricultural Biotechnology, Veterinary Science. The areas covered by an agronomist during the course of his or her studies include agrarian sciences, animal husbandry, forestry science, plant genetics, meteorology, phytopathology, botany, chemistry, biochemistry, and hydraulics. Also important are a knowledge of rural appraisal procedures, agricultural buildings and agricultural law.
Depending on the law applicable in the country where he or she is based, an agronomist may need to be licensed by a specific professional body.
Agronomist Skills and Competencies
The principal skills and abilities needed by an agronomist include:
- Agrarian science and technology skills
- Knowledge of agri-food chain processes
- Organization and planning capabilities
- Management skills and commercial acumen
- Knowledge of legislation applicable to the agricultural technology sector
- Ability to prepare reports
- Knowledge of/ability to use laboratory testing equipment (for chemical, physical and biological tests)
- Communication skills
Agronomist: Career Path
As far as career prospects are concerned, an agronomist with strong technical knowledge and planning skills may initially progress from a consultancy role to a management position, for example as production manager, and from there on to running a whole farm, nursery or livestock holding. In addition to agricultural knowledge, agronomists in top management positions also need to have business analysis, financial planning and accounting skills.
An alternative career route for an agronomist might involve specializing - for example in improving and developing agricultural processes and practices, such as sowing and planting, harvesting and irrigation, or focusing on sustainable development and organic farming, helping farmers and livestock breeders to develop techniques and methods that are both profitable and environmentally sustainable.
An agronomist might also choose to become a research scientist, studying productivity, crop genetics, storage methods or strategies for agri-food products, or else branch out into environmental protection, developing soil conservation methods and combating desertification, soil erosion and pollution. Finally, an agronomist may choose to become a technical sales representative and pursue a career in agricultural marketing and sales.
Top Reasons to Work as an Agronomist
Working with and for the environment is one of the principal reasons for which people choose to embark on a career as an agronomist. The work is both varied and dynamic and has little in common with a normal office routine. A significant part of an agronomist’s duties are performed outside, in the open air, in contact with plants and animals. Finally, agronomists have career opportunities in a wide range of sectors, including farming, breeding, agri-food and regional planning, meaning they can put to their skills to good use in a range of different areas.