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With the mounting need to find better ways to produce food to feed the planet, the skills and expertise of agronomists and others in the field of agriculture are greatly needed.

That pressure is continuing to grow, says Cheryl Probert, recruitment partner for Bayer CropScience. Expertise in the area of plant science, crop science specifically, and agronomy falls into that'those skills are going to be more and more critical to the food chain over time.

Approximately three per cent of the surface of the earth is arable land, says Probert. Think about an apple that you buy at the grocery store and the little sticker that comes on the apple. That little sticker is about the proportion of [arable land] on the globe.

Agronomists work within this problem by determining new and more effective ways of crop production. Probert describes the job of an agronomist as similar to that of a pharmacist. A pharmacist understands how different drugs affect the human body, while an agronomist understands how external influences like fertilizer or an herbicide affect a plant or seed, she says.

As an agronomist, you can either focus your work on the research and development side of agronomy or work directly with farmers by helping them identify problems with their crops.

Research and development agronomists test the growth of plants using trial plots, says Probert. They might apply a fungicide to one group of plants and not apply that to another and then compare how they grow, what they look like, how they produce by the end of the summer.

For the agronomists who work with farmers, they're able to observe their fields and provide advice or assist with troubleshooting their crops and determining whether they're having a problem with insects, disease, or something else.

Probert says that one of the most rewarding parts of the job is when they can make a difference to the farmers and help with the overall success of their businesses. If someone provides advice that helps save a crop, that's a real thrill! That means that that farmer is going to have income where they might not have otherwise.

Some of the challenges of the job include dealing with bad weather. Since crop production depends on certain optimal conditions, it can be hard work for agronomists working in provinces like Saskatchewan, for example, who have been experiencing massive flooding this year, says Probert.

Students interested in becoming an agronomist must enroll in an agriculture program such as a bachelor of agriculture. Probert recommends participating in the many summer opportunities available like co-ops or internships in order to get a feel for the company and industry.

A career in agriculture doesn't automatically mean becoming a farmer. There are lots of other things that [you] can do in the industry that will be challenging, rewarding, and impactful, says Probert. Students wishing to enter this field just need to do a little research to find the career that best suits them.

Photo: Dorling Kindersley/Thinkstock