WORKING AS AN AGRONOMIST OR BROAD ACRE FARMER
 
 
Agronomy is the growing of broad-acre crops. These crops may be vegetables such as peas or beans, oil crops (e.g. sunflower, mint), seed (e.g.  lawn grass, pasture grass), grains (wheat or other cereals) or fibre crops (e.g. cotton, hemp).

Agronomic farmers grow these crops, usually on large acreages using machinery for cultivation, weed and pest control and harvesting the crop. Sometimes, high value agronomic crops may be grown on smaller acreages.
Agronomy is a huge part of global agriculture, and the sheer size of this industry means that many people are employed not only to actually farm these crops, but also to develop and supply the seed, fertilisers, machinery and chemicals needed to produce the crops.

Agronomists are employed both on and off farms; and include people with relatively little formal training who work in semi-skilled or manual labour jobs, through to highly skilled university trained professionals. To be successful as an agronomist, you do need to be prepared to go where the work is; and that is generally in rural areas. You should be prepared to relocate or change jobs if the industry changes. For example, during periods of prolonged drought in agronomic employment may decrease, but opportunities may increase in other countries at the same time. Crops are always needed, but where they are grown can shift from year to year.

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WHAT DOES AGRONOMIC WORK INVOLVE?

A typical production system involves growing broad acre monocultures. It is difficult to escape this approach to agronomy, particularly if the work is to be mechanised (which is normally necessary for cost effective modern farming). This refers to growing large areas of a single crop in which almost no diversity is present at all.
 
Crops grown as a monoculture though have distinct problems (eg. they are often especially open to attack from weed and pest species). Many predators return annually to these farms, assured of a continual food source. The stripping of crop-targeted nutrients from the soil is also a major problem in a monoculture. To combat these effects farmers are required to use greater quantities of chemicals in the form of herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.

Various methods are therefore used to break the cycle of monoculture including crop rotations (also called break crops), cover crops, intercropping, agroforestry etc.  

Crop Rotation

Many of the problems associated with monocultures can be minimised by simply rotating crops. As a general rule, in situations where there are more problems, leave greater time periods between plantings of the same crop. Sustainability may be improved by the following:
Grow a crop or crops for half of the year, and graze the same area the other half.
 
Grow several different crops on the farm, and rotate them so the same crop is not grown in the same paddock more than once every two to three years (or preferably longer).
 
Fallow areas between crops (i.e. do not graze or grow a crop during the rest period).
 
Grow cover crops for green manure at least annually to revitalise the soil, this approach is not that effective in dryer farming areas.
Ley farming systems.  This involves alternating cereal grain production with pasture. Annual medics or sub clover, mixed with grasses, are useful to produce high quality forage.

Cover Crops

A cover crop is simply a plant that is grown for the purpose of improving the condition of the soil in which it is grown. It is most commonly ploughed in or sprayed out, but can also be cut and left to lie on the soil. The latter method is very slow, but can be effective.

New approaches to the "monoculture" issue are always emerging; along with other developments in farming techniques such as robotics. The modern agronomist needs to be well connected with their industry, technically skilled and always informed about the latest industry trends. This is a technical career, far from the agronomy of the past which involved walking behind a plow and harvesting with a scythe.. 

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