Agronomy

 

 

 

Agronomy is the science and technology of using plants for food, fuel, feed, and fiber. Agronomy encompasses work in the areas of plant genetics, plant physiology, meteorology, and soil science.  Agronomy is the application of a combination of sciences like biology, chemistry, ecology, earth science, and genetics. Agronomists today are involved with many issues including producing food, creating healthier food, managing environmental impact of agriculture, and creating energy from plants.  Agronomists often specialize in areas such as crop rotation, irrigation and drainage, plant breeding, soil classification, soil fertility; weed control, insect and pest control.

field sampling a trial plot of flax

An agronomist field sampling a trial plot of flax

 

Plant Breeding

 

This area of agronomy involves selective breeding of plants to produce the best crops under various conditions. Plant breeding has increased crop yields and has improved the nutritional value of numerous crops, including corn, soybeans, and wheat. It also has led to the development of new types of plants. For example, a hybrid grain called triticale was produced by crossbreeding rye and wheat. Triticale contains more usable protein than does either rye or wheat. Agronomy has also been instrumental in fruit and vegetable production research. It is understood that the role of agronomist includes seeing whether produce from a field of 'x' meets the following conditions:

  1. Land and water access,
  2. Commercialization (market),
  3. Quality and quantity of inputs,
  4. Risk protection (insurance),
  5. Agricultural credit.

 

Biotechnology

 

mapping a plant genome

An agronomist mapping a plant genome

Agronomists use biotechnology to extend and expedite the development of desired characteristics listed in the Plant Breeding section.  Biotechnology is often a lab activity requiring field testing of the new crop varieties that are developed.

 

In addition to increasing crop yields, reducing crop vulnerability to environmental stresses, improving health and taste of foods, and reducing the need for field applied chemicals; agronomic biotechnology is increasingly being applied for novel uses other than food. For example, oilseed is at present used mainly for margarine and other food oils, but it can be modified to produce fatty acids for detergents, substitute fuels and petrochemicals.

 

Soil Science

 

Agronomists study sustainable ways to make soils more productive. They classify soils and reproduce them to determine whether they contain substances vital to plant growth such as compounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If a certain soil is deficient in these substances, fertilizers may provide them. Soil science also involves investigation of the movement of nutrients through the soil, the amount of nutrients absorbed by a plant's roots, and the development of roots and their relation to the soil.

soil sample in Uganda, Africa

Agronomists describing a soil sample in Uganda, Africa

 

Soil Conservation

 

In addition, agronomists develop methods to preserve the soil and to decrease the effects of erosion by wind and water. For example, a technique called contour plowing may be used to prevent soil erosion and conserve rainfall. Researchers in agronomy also seek ways to use the soil more effectively in solving other problems. Such problems include the disposal of human and animal wastes; water pollution; and the build-up in the soil of pesticides. A No-tilling crop is a technique now used to help prevent erosion. Planting of soil binding grasses along contours can be tried in steep slopes. For better effect, contour drains of depths up to 1 meter may help retain the soil and prevent permanent wash off.

 

Agroecology

 

Agroecology is the management of agricultural systems with an emphasis on ecological and environmental perspectives. This area is closely associated with work in the areas of sustainable agriculture, organic farming, alternative food systems and the development of alternative cropping systems.

 

Theoretical Modeling

 

Agronomy Schools

 

Agronomy programs are offered at colleges, universities, and specialized agricultural schools. Agronomy programs often involve classes across a range of departments including agriculture, biology, chemistry, and physiology.

 

Career Outlook

 

Past agricultural research has created higher yielding crops, crops with better resistance to pests and plant pathogens, and more effective fertilizers and pesticides. Research is still necessary, however, particularly as insects and diseases continue to adapt to pesticides and as soil fertility and water quality continue to need improvement.

 

Emerging biotechnologies will play an ever larger role in agricultural research. Scientists will be needed to apply these technologies to the creation of new food products and other advances. Moreover, increasing demand is expected for biofuels and other agricultural products used in industrial processes. Agricultural scientists will be needed to find ways to increase the output of crops used in these products.

 

Agronomists will also be needed to balance increased agricultural output with protection and preservation of soil, water, and ecosystems. They increasingly encourage the practice of sustainable agriculture by developing and implementing plans to manage pests, crops, soil fertility and erosion, and animal waste in ways that reduce the use of harmful chemicals and do little damage to farms and the natural environment.

 

Most agronomists are consultants, researchers, or teachers. Many work for agricultural experiment stations, federal or state government agencies, industrial firms, or universities. Agronomists also serve in such international organizations as the Agency for International Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

 

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