What's your job about?
I am an agronomist with Nutrien Ag Solutions – basically I’m a crop doctor helping farmers to feed Australia.
Every day is different as an agronomist. I help at the branch serving customers, organise chemical, determine what’s moving out of the shop, make observations in the field with clients, report back these observations to my senior agronomist which we then work out a plan moving forward. The main crops I look after include: lentils, wheat, barley, canola, beans, medic pastures, oats and hay. With the late and patchy break to the season, canola monitoring has been quite intense. We have been performing weekly visits to paddocks to assess the emergence and decide whether anything needs to be done to increase plant numbers, remove pests such as insects or if the crop will be able to compensate with the given plant numbers. Checking for grasses in cereals is also quite an important task at this time of year, due to the critical timing of herbicides to ensure they are effective and safe on the crop.
At the moment, we have a vast trial program for various new chemicals as well as various agronomic trials around seeding and fertiliser rates. This is really useful research for our clients and a great opportunity for me to take part in observations and capture that data from the trials. I am extremely well supported by great mentors who have real passion for the job and company. He allows me to think critically while pointing me in the right direction when I need guidance. While a lot of the trial work and set up has been done there is still plenty going on. Early tissue testing is taking place as symptoms or issues appear. Later in the season monitoring of crop growth stages will become crucial to ensure correct timings of herbicide and fungicide, while regular visits to pulse crops will become more common to assess and keep on top of disease and insects.
What's your background?
I grew up in Riverton which is a half hour north of Gawler, on a mixed cropping farm (sheep, cereals, canola and legumes). My family stopped farming a number of years ago, which sparked a hunger to pursue a career in the industry. At school I was exposed to agriculture subjects (agricultural science and chemistry) which sparked my real interest in the industry and particularly agronomy as a career.
Throughout university, I worked for a research company casually which was a really good experience and gave me firsthand exposure to the research and development pipeline. After university I began working for a precision ag company who specialise in soil grid mapping and creation of prescription maps. This was a real learning experience, especially being out on my own in foreign areas or states and having to adapt on the fly. These early experiences helped me pursue a career in Agronomy. I had quite a few job interviews after university amidst Covid, which I wasn’t fortunate to get. However, my application with Nutrien and their Agronomy Grad program was successful, and I am extremely happy that this was the case. I am most of the way through the program and quite settled within a branch after being moved around the state.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Absolutely. It helps to have a passion for agriculture or the land, but it isn’t the most important factor. So much of the work we do is critical thinking and working through issues and problems as a team and finding the best course of action. These are transferrable skills and if you have an interest in the industry, they can certainly be applied. The advice you provide clients can make or break a season and potentially their bottom line.
Compassion is also important. If you are compassionate, listen and empathise with the different growers you work with, recognise their situations, you’ll do well. You also need to be a flexible person and always do things with people’s best interests in mind. You don’t have to come from farming or ag, you need to be passionate and committed to the industry and possess the transferrable skills to succeed. A good attitude is everything and a desire to want to help people.
An Agronomist needs to have an open mind, be patient and be flexible.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
It’s extremely satisfying when you are out on the paddock with a grower, can identify an issue and have enough skill and knowledge to work through how to solve the problem. Working through a situation to tease out an issue and identify potential factors which cause the problem at hand is quite a difficult task but can be extremely rewarding. Seeing the client happy is a very good feeling. It’s exciting working with new products and applying logic to where you could use them, such as new chemicals or new fertilisers. A great feeling for me was when I started doing scouting on my own while working at the Keith branch. This was a stepping stone in my development, earning the trust and respect of my senior agronomists.
What are the limitations of your job?
I’m very well supported in my role. Even after nearing the end of the Grad Program I’m still being supported by my senior people within the branch and the business. I am still given the opportunity to have a voice and am trusted with my influence, but I’m not left out on my own devices which is why the program is so great - you receive constant support. I have great people around me that know where I am at. I work rotational Saturdays. It can be physically demanding at times when out in the sheds restacking pallets and stacking drums, and when it’s cold and wet it can be hard at times, but you have to be focused to get the job done. My biggest limitation is confidence and self-belief. Coming out of university you learn pretty quickly that it doesn’t teach you how to work, it helps with the knowledge base, so you need to pick up on how to apply that. Moving into a workplace environment can be a change for those that haven’t worked before, but it is the best way to learn. I am slowly learning to trust my own ability.