We often joke that crop consultants need to wear many hats in order to fulfill the profession’s unofficial job description. My contract researcher friends share the same situation.

Lately, it has become clear that we must add a couple of new hats. Before we lament the additional job duties, remember that no profession in the world requires wearing more hats than those worn by farmers.

THE ROLE OF CHANGE AGENT

We wear a new hat when we nudge clients to consider new practices to improve soil and water conservation or sustainability. It is not easy to tell farmers that they need to change their tillage systems or rotation to achieve tolerable soil erosion levels. The infrastructure on a farm has been built over time to grow certain crops using methods that work on that farm. In a system, changing one part almost always means that several other parts will need to change. These changes require time and money.

It is even more difficult to tell farmers that the nutrient application rate in which they have confidence puts them out of compliance with environmental rules. This duty has shifted to crop advisers by default as guidelines and voluntary compliance have morphed into regulations and mandatory compliance. Regulators have been more than willing to transfer this responsibility to crop advisers. They must realize that farmers do not hire us to be environmental enforcers. We walk a fine line when fulfilling this role. If our client doesn’t like our message, then we can easily be replaced with someone who will tell the farmer what he wants to hear. At the same time, we should acknowledge that we do have a role to play as trusted advisers to help make positive change.

THE ROLE OF AG ADVOCATE

Another important hat that we need to wear is that of an agricultural advocate. This role has many facets. Today, it seems that misinformation has been propagated to cloud the facts on issues such as GMOs, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. We all need to do our part to set the record straight. Conversations with friends and family are a great opportunity to present facts and point out misinformation. Using social media is another effective way to advocate for ag.  

We also need to become advocates on behalf of our clients when proposed regulations appear to be misguided. Farmers rarely have time to keep abreast of proposed regulations that have the potential to put them out of business. Farm organizations often are not aware of esoteric issues of which crop consultants are keenly aware. Agronomists and researchers often understand most aspects of these issues better than any other stakeholders. For this reason, we have an obligation to step forward and lead the discussion. 

Other issues such as pesticide re-registrations demand that we submit our comments to the Environmental Protection Agency so that an informed choice can be made. If we don’t step forward with agriculture’s side of the story, then who will? Leading the fight requires us to step out of our comfort zones, but it can be very rewarding to know that you have made a real difference.  

EMBRACE THE RESPONSIBILITY

If we help our clients navigate complicated environmental regulations in a way that simplifies rules and minimizes financial impact, then we will have strengthened our relationship. Likewise, if we become recognized as leaders who advocate for agriculture and “go to bat” on tough issues, then we will further cement our privilege to act as their advisers. 

I sincerely hope that you find your profession to be fulfilling and that you can appreciate the challenge of wearing a different hat occasionally.