Crop advisers identify features such as disease, nutrient deficiencies, and plant injury quickly and accurately in order to maximize field production. Undergraduate students of agronomy, crops, and soils will demonstrate this skill during the Crops Competition Showcase at the Synergy in Science ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., on Nov. 16, 2015. The meeting is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

Marshall Hay, a certified crop adviser and graduate student at Kansas State University, is helping organize the competition. He was also a competitor as an undergraduate. “Agronomy is very competitive,” Hay says. “There’s a lot of openings for jobs, but you have to know your stuff. The crops contest is able to facilitate that for our students. It brings in real-world perspective."

The competition consists of three parts: identifying weeds, crops, pests, and diseases; a field scenario; and lab practical. Students compete using only a hand-held calculator, clipboard, and hand-held magnifying glass.

“In the field scenario, students have to come up with a solution that applies agronomy as well as economics. It has to make sense for the crop, the environment, and the checkbook. All those things get tied together,” Hay says. “Students have only their knowledge to use—no outside resources. In many isolated areas, you don’t have internet access, and can’t look info up. By being able to reference your past understanding rather than having to reference a smartphone, you can instantly gain a higher level of creditability with clients.”

Students who successfully compete are often in a better position for professional certifications after graduation, such as the certified crop adviser exam.