The Agronomist and Social Media

The role that SM can play in the Agronomist’s life

SOCIAL MEDIA

Agronomists all over the world engage in social media (SM). Depending on how it’s used, it can be a productive forum for promoting products and ideas germane to your business.

But there’s a balance. I’ve always viewed SM platforms as a way for customers to see the real you. They want to see your perspective on life and business and frankly don’t mind if you promote your employer and products.  Obviously, if every post is about a product and how great is it, you’ll be dismissed quickly and viewed as nothing more than a used car salesman. Avoid direct criticism of competitors. Focus on you and yours and let your followers decide on the importance and value of your posts.

While privacy matters, sharing photos and family activities is very popular among followers because they get to see you outside of the business. You’re a member of their community and it’s okay for customers to see that you’re normal…or abnormal, depending on their perspective. They want to know if they can relate to you and vice versa. Certainly, engage in this manner if you’re comfortable with it but don’t fake it. Most folks can see through phony posts.

Every SM platform is different but decide on your focus and develop a strategy. Some platforms are centered around photos and videos while others are more for storytelling. I find that most of the agricultural community prefers Twitter for “pure” agriculture (#agtwitter) and Facebook for family and groups. Each has its purpose, and one may fit your “style” more than another.

You can participate in as many as you like but one warning – it can consume time. Decide on a game plan, create posts that are productive and watch your time commitment. Also be sure that your employer is supportive of your engagement. Not all are.

THE GOOD and THE BAD

The good. I’ve been on Twitter for about seven years (as of 2021) and have 6,500+ followers. My intention from the beginning was to use it as an educational tool; to teach about agronomy as it relates to the seed business. Quizzes, daily posts, videos, threads, polls, retweets of productive posts from other agronomists, tons of photos and selfies with the latter helping followers to get to know me.

Some posts have high levels of engagement with over several million “impressions” over the course of a few months. An impression is when a reader pauses to look at your post, clicks on it or retweets it. While not all positive, most of these impressions either raised awareness of products or ideas or even taught a customer or two something about agronomy. Also, I prefer to engage in a positive way versus using controversy. Too, unless deleted, posts can be searched so my content is somewhat “forever.”

The bad. Your attitude is key to being successful on SM. “Thin skinned folks need not apply.”  Folks will reply with hateful, ignorant, uneducated, unproductive comments that will absolutely bring your blood to a boil. I generally don’t tolerate this behavior and let them know it. The “mute” or “block” buttons can be your best friends. Engagement in SM doesn’t have to be stressful. Help yourself out though by keeping posts professional with correct spelling and punctuation. As I like to say, “carry on as if you actually attended your college classes.”

How you present yourself on SM speaks volumes about your character. Be mindful that prospective customers might be watching “from a distance.” If they meet you and remember that ugly post you made about somebody they know (politicians included), you’ll likely not have a business relationship with them.

I want you to do well.  ~ph

The Agronomist and The Customer

An agronomist’s perspective on interacting with customers

THE CUSTOMER

Agronomists interact with customers in many ways. Taking soil samples, interpreting yield results, planting and harvesting plots and handling product complaints are just a few examples. Most of these interactions are pleasant but certainly not all. If you are genuine in your intentions, that of having their best interests at heart, the day-to-day work comes easy and the customer will appreciate all that you do, even in the worst of times. Too often, sales quotas and chasing the sales bonus often come before what is ultimately the right decision for the customer’s operation.

The adage, “respect isn’t given, it’s earned,” is true for many facets of life. Rural communities thrive on deep-rooted family and church values. Lasting relationships with agronomists that are built on trust can take a great deal of time to develop. Credentials such as M.S., Ph.D. or CCA are often shown on business cards but your performance and attitude dictate whether these titles deserve any more respect than the agronomist without them that has been in the community for 20 years.

In my experience, a well-respected agronomist always takes the time to listen before speaking. For the inexperienced, every meeting with a new customer should be 90% listening and 10% talking. There is so much to learn about new farming operations – the family, the land, the crops, the livestock – all important components that will impact your work. Take notes and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is no embarrassment for jotting down information and letting the customer see that you’re actively engaged. This is equally true for the seasoned veteran. Forgetting or ignoring critical facts, making assumptions, or simply not getting the information correct can lead to bad decisions that will cost the customer and ultimately your reputation in the end.

THE GOOD and THE BAD

The good.  My first job after receiving my M.S. in agronomy was in soil conservation and I held a position in a regional NRCS office. One of the first visits I made was with a cohort who took me on a visit to an ag retailer. I was new and didn’t want to appear over-anxious to engage or show off my knowledge that was now verified and proudly displayed in a frame.

After listening to the conversation for over 20 minutes, the retailer looked over at me and said, “I like you. You’re listening and not trying to inject everything you know into the discussion. You’ll be good.” This has stuck with me for 33 years.

The bad. Ten years later I was on a complaint call for cotton. It was a call where a lot of things were involved – when it was sprayed, products and additives, spray rates and so on. The ultimate claim was that yield would be impacted. (Complaint calls like this one are often emotional since income can be significantly impacted.)

I was assisted by a more experienced agronomist who knew the customer. We listened and asked several questions. I recorded several notes in a field notebook. After about an hour of looking things over I came back and basically asked the same questions again making sure we had it right.

The customer was incensed by this and felt we thought he was lying. Why else ask the same question twice? He called every supervisor he could find a number for, but not me.  We haven’t spoken since.

My cohort told me afterwards that he knew about the customer’s disposition but didn’t think it was important enough to share. I believe I was right to ask and clarify but learned that setting up the additional questioning in a more professional manner might have helped. (“Mind if I ask a few more questions?”)  Might of, I said. 

Remember, relationships matter at all levels of the business but more so in your local community. Too, the customer is not always right and colleagues might not always have your best interests at heart. But it is up to you to decide how you’ll carry yourself in your relationship with customers and peers.

I want you to do well.  ~ph

Photo credit: Iowa State University

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Rinse and Repeat

Earlier in my career I once shared with a colleague that I had 10 years of experience. He asked, ” is that 10 years of experience or 1 year of experience repeated 10 times?” His response caused me to pause and I certainly had to stop and think about just what I had learned over those years. Was I basically on a “rinse and repeat” cycle or, more importantly, did I waste time and basically rest on my laurels?

After that I decided that whenever I felt like I was “repeating” myself that I would step up and do something different so that the next year was mostly a new experience. Too, it was important that I find creative ways to share that experience with my farmers and sales team. Sure, it’s corn, sorghum and cotton, year after year. You know, rinse and repeat. While the weather may differ, they all basically grow the same year after year. So what’s interesting or new about that? If you’re an agronomist – everything!

I just returned from our company’s annual agronomy meeting (you might have noticed me on Twitter cowering under the sub-zero temperatures) and was surrounded by the largest agronomy team any seed company has in the world. From all over North America, over 300 agronomists shared research findings, teaching methods, and an infectious enthusiasm for the food and fiber our farmers produce. You may not realize it but while you might see only field agronomists like myself at your local meetings and such, behind the scenes are production agronomists who are responsible for thousands of seed production acres. They’re mostly taken for granted but they are a key reason why our seed has the highest quality tolerances in the industry.

Drone technology, satellite imagery, photometry, seed treatment technology, and how to possibly plant seed at 17 mph were all on the agenda (that’s not a typo, Ohio State researchers were pushing the limits of down force!). Of all the topics, my personal favorite was understanding the differences in corn and soybean root morphology. It was an amazing look at rooting depth, volume, growth behavior and the basic differences in nutrient and water uptake. We often hear that size matters but there’s something called a root:shoot ratio and it really does matter!

Every year at that meeting I’m humbled and reminded that there are a lot of passionate, smart people in our industry. I was surrounded mostly by agronomists but there are sales reps and company personnel that are equally passionate with nearly all possessing knowledge and experience that can help improve your position in life as a farmer. My advice is to reach out and take advantage of that. It’s included in the price of the seed. Don’t “rinse and repeat” and expect it all to be different.

I want you to do well. God bless our farmers!

Risk It All

Remember when I said I don’t farm for a living; rather, I work with farmers? Well, this is one of those blogs where it will be easy to say, “if you think you know so damn much, why don’t you farm for a living rather than sit around and tell us what to do?” That’s a fair retort. But I will ignore it for now.

Risk. Risk management. Crop rotation, tillage system, hybrid selection, planting date – these are the major components of your crop production plan that the agronomist knows and worries more about than other important facets of successful farming. Each has it’s own degree of risk and, depending where on the earth you are farming, that risk might be more or less.

Monoculture (producing the same crop specie on the same land for consecutive years) is known to reduce yield potential. For example, in the south, continues cotton can lead to establishment of root rot that can be difficult to manage in future crops. Continuous corn is almost always less productive than corn in rotation and can lead to establishment of corn rootworm populations – another problem that can be difficult to control. In trying to maximize profit it’s easy to see that future income potential could be jeopardized with the decision to plant continuous crops.

Within a crop, agronomists also recommend spreading out maturity and genetic diversity. NEVER plant all your acres to one hybrid or variety. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. I get it that you might do that if you’re a smaller farmer with few acres; but for larger operators – NEVER. You know the land – some acres are more productive than others; some drought prone, some flood prone, etc. Plant the right hybrid on the right acre. Seed company personnel have knowledge and wisdom and usually know their products like they know their kids. Lean on them for help!

Dr. Matt Montgomery, Pioneer Hi-Bred agronomist up in Illinois, posted this image in a tweet that makes a key point. One of my recommendations every year in Texas is to spread out maturities. This can spread out harvest but more importantly it spreads out the timing of when the crop is flowering and filling seed. Regardless of crop, this is an important strategy to mitigate production risk that can be caused by excessive heat or drought – both very prevalent throughout central and south Texas. However, when the latter part of the growing season is favorable, fuller maturity hybrids almost always out-yield the earlier maturities, sometimes significantly. Balance expectations while also controlling risk!

We are in a very wet cycle right now throughout the eastern half of Texas and it’s likely going to push our planting dates later than desired. (For corn, crop insurance deadlines are usually much later than the ideal window for maximizing yield potential.) Also, with the wet winter, very few acres have been worked and when it does dry out there won’t be much time to do anything other than plant. Remember, the highest yield potential for the year almost always coincides with the first planting – SO DON’T MESS THAT UP. Take the time to get the seedbed right and hopefully you won’t spend the rest of the summer looking at an ugly crop and hating yourself.

Risk management is often associated with financial risk. That’s important but managing stress in our lives is also important. Think about how the factors I talked about affect your life – can we mitigate “personal risk” associated with stress by managing things differently, for the better. I believe so.

I want y’all to do well. God bless my farmers!

Farmer vs. Agronomist

I am not a farmer. I work with farmers. I am a trained agronomist. (I’m what you call a professional so don’t try this at home.) I have all the answers – most of which are derived driving by fields at 70 mph. I am an “armchair farmer” of sorts, reading articles, published scientific papers, trade magazines and I formulate opinions about the successes and failures of crop production. Of course, I walk fields. Lots of them. My advice is the best advice. I firmly believe that. Do as I say. End of discussion.

I often go out and share my knowledge and wisdom on increasing crop productivity with every grower within listening distance and return back home to the armchair and ponder whether I actually had any impact.  In the couple of months after harvest I will have made presentations to over 500 growers. I’ll know shortly of my influence as planting will commence in the next couple of weeks in south Texas.

How will the farm economy affect their decisions? Will they avoid the temptation to plant before the last spring freeze? Will they keep their crop rotation intact to avoid the yield decline associated with monoculture? Will they take the time to eliminate compaction and ruts left after last year’s harvest? Will they plant my hybrids and plant the recommended seed populations or take somebody else’s advice on what to plant?

More importantly, do they realize that when every grower chases the highest price that over-production and depressed prices are the result? Of course they do. They’re independent growers selling into a global market that they virtually have no control over. And that stinks. As the agronomist, I can only give them advice and knowledge about how to increase productivity. But as a farmer, they often can only do what’s needed to survive another year. And in today’s world decisions are often influenced by their bankers or other financial supporters. And I’m pretty sure very few of them have a degree in agronomy. And that stinks, too.

All the training I’ve had. All the years in the business. All the watching and learning from growers all over the Midwest, the Great Plains and throughout Texas. All the reading, studying and driving by countless fields at 70 mph usually lead me to this conclusion – “I told them not to do that.”

I want y’all to do well. God bless my farmers!