Career profile - Agronomist

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 and trees need to produce the best-quality crops.

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 on 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 (Alliums and Brassicas) Agronomy, also says there is something satisfying about "being an integral part of growing and delivering a high-quality, healthy product to the end consumer".

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience 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," Richardson maintains. 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 company’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 that you need to become a successful agronomist. That’s what we look for when we are recruiting."

Independence

Winson suggests that agronomists need to demonstrate initiative and be quite independent "because you are 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 adds. 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 three 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 any other horticulture roles?

Bennett says: "We took on an ex-soft-fruit farm manager who had been in that role for 10-15 years and his skills have definitely been useful for us." Richardson suggests that people 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."


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