By Stevie Gray, agronomist at Scottish Agronomy
Stevie Gray has been with Scottish Agronomy since 2014, working with the trials and advisory team, and this month moving into a full-time advisory role as Senior Agronomist. He has just joined the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme which develops leadership potential in the rural sector.
Producing Food Vs Capturing Carbon. Reducing Inputs Vs Increasing Output. Sustainable Production Vs Growing Population. For anyone with an interest in problem solving a career in agronomy should be high on the list of career options. After all, who doesn’t want to save the world?
When I joined Scottish Agronomy in February 2014 it would be untrue to say it was because of a historical desire to be involved in innovative food production or even arable agriculture. I never grew up on a farm, I didn’t have any experiences of agriculture and, to be honest, when I first started at Arlary, I had no long-term career plans.
The main motivation behind originally joining the trials team was simply a wish to work outdoors. That wish was instantly granted, the memory of hand spreading fertiliser on the trials plots on my first day will never leave me.
No day is the same…
The variety of work involved in the trials played a big part in developing my interest in agronomy. To this day I have never had two workdays the same, perfect for someone with as low a boredom threshold as I have! Learning about food production – drilling, spraying, disease and pest monitoring, harvest – was what really got my attention. I started to see a snapshot of the issues facing our farmers, how complex the process of food production really was, and I wanted to get involved in finding the solutions.
During the peak of the growing season a typical week for the cereal trials can take you to look at more than 10 different crops at 5 or 6 different locations from Easter Ross to Kelso. What better a place for a developing agronomist to learn; with hundreds of spray programmes to study, variety trials showing the newest material coming from plant breeders, our fungicide trials provide better examples of a vast range of diseases than any textbook ever could.
Seeking the lesser spotted pests…
Beyond the trials, Scottish Agronomy’s network of over 200 farmer members incorporates farms that range in size right across Scotland. This means that there is often a chance to study the more obscure and lesser spotted pests and problems. The monthly grower meetings, albeit virtually of late, provide the chance to get a group of local growers together around a table to talk about what they are seeing on farm. The collaborative nature of the co-operative creates an environment where new and innovative ideas are being shared all the time.
Working as an independent agronomist has given me the freedom to develop my knowledge of agronomy and agriculture at my own pace, forming opinions based on experience, and backed up by trials results. Our links with our trade associates provide a platform to present to and get to know the wider trade. Whilst the support of the vastly experienced advisory team at Scottish Agronomy means that there is always someone to discuss ideas and theories with.
A changing world
For me, I don’t think there could be a more exciting time to be moving into the advisory side of the business full time. Loss of active ingredients, climate change, COVID and Brexit mean there is always another challenge, or three, coming over the horizon. Crop protection now forms only part of the overall advisory picture. Dedicating more time to our members businesses to further understand the challenges they are facing, and how Scottish Agronomy can help going forward is what I am looking forward to most.
I was fortunate this year to gain a place on the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme. As I take on more responsibility within the advisory side of the business it felt like the right time to try to expand my understanding of not just our own business but also of the rural sector in Scotland as a whole.
The chance to learn from the other participants about the challenges and opportunities facing the wider rural sector has been invaluable, as well as making connections with a range of different business leaders.
Agriculture faces a constantly moving set of goal posts, and whilst frustrating for farmers, that is what makes it so interesting as an agronomist. Ultimately my aim is to ensure Scottish Agronomy and its members are well poised to react positively to change in an increasingly uncertain world.