When the answer to the question no longer comes in a can, the people giving the answers need a broader range of skills.
That’s the thinking at leading agronomy specialists Agrii, which has brought in a raft of new players with a broad range of skills to support a continuing move towards a modern approach to improving farm productivity.
With new techniques, a whole-farm approach, better information and precision farming techniques now part of the agronomist’s armoury, there is less emphasis on the chemical side of the business.
“We are bringing in new team members with experience in farm management and wider business skills to complement the expertise we have always had in the agro-chemical side of farming,” explained South East team manager Phil Loveridge.
“In the past most agronomy companies were made up of technical reps who entered the business because of their understanding of agro-chemicals, but these days Agrii takes a much broader view of farming and the best way to maximise outputs.
“Apart from the fact that the number of chemicals available for use is being reduced by legislation, we know that there are better ways of boosting yields by taking an integrated approach. The answer no longer comes in a can and our new team reflects that fact.”
The new team includes Neil Harper, who was the arable manager at John Boyd Farms in Lenham – now Agrii Kent technology centre, and Ken McTaggart, who moved to the company after 12 years managing a farm business in East Anglia.
The ten agronomists in the South East each have, on average, more than 20 years experience in the industry, and Phil believes it has the right combination of technical experts and broader-based ‘sharp end’ practitioners with a farm management background.
“The new arrivals have brought a new energy to the team and a new determination to help farmers meet the challenges currently facing the arable world,” he said.
As Neil explained: “The nuts and bolts of farming is changing and there is more of a need to take a look at the whole business in order to make the operation as profitable as possible.
“Agrii is determined to help farmers push yields from the current average of eight or nine tonnes per hectare to the 15t/ha level – or beyond – and it is clear that we need to look at more than just inputs to achieve that. It’s a question of looking closely at every aspect of the operation, and Agrii has the skills and the experience to help farmers do that.
“Agronomists are now involved in every aspect of farming – from the crop, variety selection, nutrition and seed treatment through to marketing the end product.”
As well as being supported by the research and development carried out at five technology centres and 28 iFarm trials sites in the UK, Agrii clients have the reassurance offered by the agronomy firm’s ORETO (Official Recognition of Efficacy Testing Organisation) accreditation.
“ORETO accreditation is much sought-after and Agrii is proud of being one of the few company’s to have it,” said Phil. “I believe it sets us apart in terms of our R&D work and the credibility of the advice that comes from it.”
Agrii employs 820 staff, including 290 agronomists based in 44 locations around the country. Phil’s South East team is based at Dunkirk, near Faversham in Kent, where a fleet of delivery vehicles is on hand to tackle the company’s traditional role of supplying equipment and products to farmers.
Agrii promises that products ordered by 10pm in the evening will be on farm the next morning.
The massive stock range includes chemicals, fencing, drainage materials, fertiliser, silage plastics, seed and virtually anything else a farmer could need. The product range is supported by knowledgeable drivers who are on first name terms with many of their customers and regularly go ‘the extra mile’ to help out.
The agronomy team and the well-stocked warehouses are further supported by Agrii’s three specialist divisions that provide another aspect to the company’s offering.
SoilQuest is Agrii’s precision farming operation, offering a complete soil scanning, mapping and zoning service that ensures that the application of all inputs is timely, focused and, most importantly, leads to the best profit margin for each field.
“Farming is about what’s underneath your feet, and our SoilQuest service allows farmers to know exactly what they are working with,” explained Phil.
MetQuest is a network of weather stations across the country that provides vital weather data to help farmers plan their operations and stay abreast of potential pest, disease or bad weather issues. Farmers can use a smartphone ‘app’ to monitor the latest information and can have their own weather station or simply log in to the nearest one.
The third specialist service is provided by IrriQuest, Agrii’s soil moisture management system. IrriQuest takes readings from meters sunk into the ground and gives farmers an accurate picture of the moisture retention qualities of their soil.
“We believe the Agrii offering to be the broadest available, in terms of technical back up, expert agronomy advice and a wide range of carefully selected products,” Phil commented.
Agrii also focuses on the environmental issues around farming and works with landowners who are committed to boosting their green credentials.
Training is a vital part of the Agrii offer, both for its own staff and for farmers looking to improve their own skills. That offer includes NRoSO spraying courses as well as others in areas as diverse as the safe handling of chemicals and form filling.
Agrii iq is the company’s in-house training programme that aims to encourage the personal development of every single member of staff. Agronomists are supported throughout the whole range of BASIS courses up to degree level, while FACTS, wildlife and soil and water management training is also popular.
“Agrii iq is a new way of keeping staff training up to date and encouraging the whole team to learn new skills that they can then use to support customers,” said Phil. “It gives every member of staff a tailored development plan as well as making sure they stay abreast of new legislation.”