• Shane Thomas

6 Skills Required by the Agronomist of the Future

In part one of this blog I discussed why I believe there won’t be an entirely robotic or algorithmic replacement for agronomists by the year 2040. In the piece I discussed reasons such as the need for qualitative considerations as well as the need for integrating numerous pieces of technology or tools to ensure the proper decisions are being made.

To me, data analysis in conjunction with qualitative understanding and foresight will be what makes an effective agronomist in 2040. These are overarching concepts that even make the best agronomists stand out today. But more specifically, what skills and knowledge base will an agronomist need as we progress to 2040?

An Expert in Trend(s) – We are seeing the way different trends can influence consumer demand and production practices. As an agronomist, having an understanding of what these trends entail by crop will be important to being effective in the future. Even better, establish oneself as an expert in specific niches’ that are really grabbing hold. For example today, sustainability is a trend we hear a lot about. The definition varies by person, but gaining expertise in what it means to different people, how that influences cropping decisions, how technology can play a role and much more will be paramount to being an agronomic leader in the future. There will be a necessity to understand environmental and government regulations, in ones own country and across borders.

Data Analysis – There will be many tools out there to analyze data in the future. There is already many today. But being able to integrate data and derive insight from it across multiple datasets will be a skillset that will make an agronomist invaluable amongst technology that can crunch numbers in fractions of the time our human minds can. Having a background in stats, understanding Excel and Python (probably something else down the line) and deriving the practical insights from the data will all be valuable. Plus, be able to visualize the data and showcase it in a meaningful way with the proper graphs or charts.

Technology Expertise – The agronomist of the future will to no one’s surprise need to understand technology, in depth and all of the differing products out there. An agronomist today needs to understand the strengths, weaknesses, fit’s etc of differing practices and products. In the future, a large part of the recommendations an agronomist will make will be in regards to what technology to deploy plus the when and how’s. Just like understanding the proper timing of the right fungicide in the right crop today an agronomist will have to understand this across multiple technologies, tools, platforms and even algorithms. One could argue this may even involve some base understanding of engineering once factoring all the different robotics and equipment that may be involved. I would envision the agronomist of the future having a computer science/engineering background with foundational understanding of the basic agricultural sciences to ground them in making the right tech recommendations.

Foundational Science + Products – There is of course still a need of an in depth understanding of biology, plants, soil, weeds, chemistry – everything an agronomist has to understand intricately today. Being a ‘techy’ (in the future this will just be a ‘person’) will not be enough to be an effective agronomist. It is the cross functional skill set grounded in foundational agronomic science that will lead to better decisions around technology to utilize data analysis and more. From a product perspective, new products today will be normal in the future; microbials, RNAi (or similar tech) and bio stimulants will be used consistently. Under what conditions should they be used? When will they show the best ROI? What are their impacts on soil health (oh, and agronomists will be experts in soil health)? This extends to typical crop input products, but I believe the understanding of second and third order consequences of product use and product combination use will need to be understood and considered when making a recommendation. For example, after considering the efficacy of a product, then how does the crop input product impact the soil health?

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Integrative Thinking – These are foundational today and will become even more important in the future. Critical thinking challenges the status quo and the status quo will be changing more rapidly than ever, critical thinking agronomists will be the ones driving the future of agriculture. Problems will come at us fast and furious in the future, having the mental capacity to understand a problem and make a decisive decision to overcome the issue will be exceptionally important, especially with all the different areas that will be necessary to take into account for a decision. Integrative thinking may be the most important because it will be ability to have numerous technologies used together in synergy.

Communication (In Person and Written) - As we move to a society that has increasingly less attention to spare and prioritizes convenience and velocity I believe we will see those that can communicate effectively, and concisely in person will see themselves being made a priority by farmers, companies and the industry at large. Additionally, as a society that will communicate through a medium (social media, wearable tech etc) and in all likelihood with robots/Artificial Intelligence, understanding how to write in a concise manner will be pivotal (attempting that myself!).

Interestingly enough, these skills aren’t much different from today. And they are on top of some of the other skills good agronomists display today, such as a strong economic understanding, expertise in farm machinery/equipment and relationship building to name a few. The difference in the future will be the depth of each specific skill will change and the priority of where each stands will change. The capability of agronomists with these skill sets will allow them to even come up with the background on new approaches that will help production in the future. In my previous post I talked about how the most effective and efficient agronomists will be the ones that are still around – if you are a farmer – look for these skill sets in the future; if you are an agronomist, work on them relentlessly.

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