Friday, October 19, 2018

Agronomists rule, ok?

February 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Good agronomists don’t run for cover when the going gets tough, says Clodhopper.

It is January, and with their waistbands extended a group of farmers sit around the kitchen table, contemplating the last six months. I am unsure what the collective noun is for a group of farmers but judging by the sombre mood it is probably not printable.

Several subjects are raised by the different participants – including the weather, slugs, blackgrass and volatile commodity prices. But one subject surfaces time and again: the individual agronomist on each farm. Four different farmers, four different agronomists.

The agronomist who appears every week on farm, drinks your coffee, shares your breakfast and is treated as a trusted friend. Some are worth their weight in gold. But not all agronomists take responsibility for their mistakes – which can and do happen.

Let’s take one pet hate: delayed drilling and blackgrass. It appears to have been almost universally accepted by the agronomy world last season that the only way to control blackgrass for 2012 was to delay drilling until end of October.

The theory was simple: use glyphosate on stale seedbeds a couple of times and then drill. With few other ideas to combat blackgrass, and with 2011 returning very little chemical control, it was seen as the way forward. It sounded good in theory but in practice it was a disaster.

As it turned out, 2012 was not the year for such a strategy. Fair to say more than one farmer wished he never heeded such advice. In one case, 25 acres drilled out of a total of 300 by mid-October turned into just 15 acres drilled by early January. The missing 10 acres were eaten by slugs.

Despite having £300,000 of drilling equipment in the shed, this farmer still went out and brought a smaller second-hand combi-drill in the hope of getting more wheat in the ground. Yes, it was the farmer’s final choice to delay drilling, but the agronomist was sure he was right too.

Situations like this show how dependant we growers can become. Another farmer had 75% of his crop drilled. About 25% had received a pre-emergence spray and the rest sat there waiting. Despite his own reservations, the farmer sprayed the remaining acreage on the advice of the agronomist.

Due to the very wet conditions, the wheat took up some of the chemical through the roots and turned a very nice yellow colour. Many excuses later and with nothing in writing has the agronomist take responsibility?

Another farmer took his agronomist’s advice regarding slug control or the lack of it. The end result was that 30% of his crop ended up being digested by slugs. Did the agronomist take the blame? I’ll leave you to answer that question yourself.

It beats me why so many agronomists run for cover when faced with a difficult situation. Too few are willing to hold up their hands and admit to making mistakes. Agronomists who apologise when they get it wrong are few and far between.

When an issue can’t be resolved, it is likely that an independent agronomist will be brought in to survey the damage. In the meantime, the regular agronomist will be replaced with another in house agronomist. And the farmer will still be expected to settle all invoices.

Little surprise then that the overriding feeling of the farmers at their January meeting was one of bitterness and feeling badly let down.

There are no winners in situations like these and the bitter feelings felt towards advisors can last a long time if not forever. In all cases there was a complete misunderstanding for the farmer’s feelings, especially towards the visual look of his farm.

Most farmers I know are a sceptical bunch and do not take to kindly to bad advice. But more to the point they are honest men who demand the same from their advisors. When things go wrong and compensation is paid, farmers are too often forced to sign gagging orders to keep schtum.

All of this erodes trust – as in the case of the four farmers around the kitchen table. Agronomy, like farming, should be a long term game. But when the trust is gone, for the farmer it can mean a change of company as well as a change of agronomist.

In fairness, I believe good agronomists should be rewarded for their work. After all, they they earn in some cases more then their customers. But the bad ones should not be allowed to hide and continue to earn from their mistakes.

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