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Agronomy

AGRONOMY

AGRONOMY. Agronomy embraces the branch of agriculture that deals with the development and practical management of plants and soils to produce food, feed, and fiber crops in a manner that preserves or improves the environment. The term "agronomy" represents the disciplines of soils, crops, and related sciences. In the soils area, specialties include soil microbiology, soil conservation, soil physics, soil fertility and plant nutrition, chemistry, biochemistry, and mineralogy. Specialties in the crops area relate primarily to plant genetics and breeding, crop physiology and management, crop ecology, turf-grass management, and seed production and physiology. Researchers in agronomy often work in close cooperation with scientists from disciplines such as entomology, pathology, chemistry, and engineering in order to improve productivity and reduce environmental problems. Even though less than 2 percent of the U.S. population are farmers who actively produce farm crops, the need for agronomists by other segments of society is increasing.

In the United States, field crops consist of those plants grown on an extensive scale, which differs from horticultural crops, which are usually grown intensively in orchards, gardens, and nurseries, but the distinctions are disappearing. Some of the major agronomic crops grown in the United States are alfalfa and pasture crops, peanuts, corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, sorghum, oats, barley, and rice. Soil management aspects of agronomy encompass soil fertility, land use, environmental preservation, and non-production uses of soil resources for building, waste disposal, and recreation. Agronomists who work as soil scientists play extremely important roles in helping preserve water quality and preserve natural environments.

Agronomy is not a new field. As early as 7000 b.c.e. wheat and barley were grown at Jarmo, in present-day Iran. One could argue that the first farmers were in fact agronomists. In prehistoric times, humans shifted from foraging to cultivating specific crops, probably wheat or barley, for their food value. At harvest time, plants with easily gathered grain were selected first. This natural selection eventually made these food plants better adapted to continued cultivation because they were more easily harvested. Throughout the centuries, selection also occurred for other crop characteristics, such as taste, yield, and adaptation to specific soils and climates. The goal of today's production agronomists is essentially the same: to improve the quality, adaptability, and yield of our most important crops.

The Science of Agronomy

There are both basic and applied aspects of agronomy. Agronomists examine very basic components of soils and crops at subcellular or molecular levels. For example, at the basic level, agronomists use sophisticated techniques to unravel the genetic makeup of major crops in order to change their adaptation, nutritive value, or to breed medicinal benefits into agronomic crops. Genetic improvement is an area where major breakthroughs are likely to occur. Agronomists have developed highly specialized computer models of crop growth in order to better understand how environmental and management components affect the way crops grow. These models help in the development of such things as precision fertilizer application techniques, which provide the crop with the correct amount of nutrients at the correct time in its life cycle. This technique helps reduce fertilizer overapplication, which is costly to the farmer, and may increase groundwater pollution. Models of how chemicals move in the soil also help assure proper application of animal manures, municipal waste, and soil amendments necessary for crop growth. Molecular components of soil constituents are studied to determine basic interactions affecting plant growth and nutrition, and soil and water quality.

Crop Production and Soil Management

Crop production consists of integrating all aspects of the field environment to assure an economically feasible and environmentally sound system of growing crops. At the applied level, agronomists use basic research information to help manage crop production systems and soil and water conservation programs. Agronomists provide a wealth of information to farmers to assure the soundness of their production programs.

Environmental and economic conditions vary dramatically, and crops must be adapted to the soils and climate for efficient crop production. Crops such as wheat grow best in the Great Plains of the United States, because wheat is well suited to the soils, rainfall, and length of growing season of the area. Likewise, crops such as cotton and peanuts are best adapted to the southern United States because these crops require warmer temperatures, a longer growing season, and more rainfall than does wheat.

Applications of sound principles of soil management are key to maintaining a healthy environment. Agronomists aid in identifying environmental risks and devise methods of reducing these risks. Management techniques developed by agronomists include terracing, strip cropping, and reduced tillage methods to reduce soil erosion. Developments in Global Information Systems (GIS) and site-specific technology are being used by agronomists to more precisely manage how, when, and where to apply soil amendments and fertilizers. GIS is also extremely useful in identifying type and extent of pest infestations. This helps reduce environmental pollution by pinpointing when and where to apply pest control and reducing the amount of pesticides used in crop production.

International Agronomy

Agronomy is an international discipline. Many of the problems, issues, and challenges faced by societies around the world are universal in nature, and require international cooperation. For example, a major problem facing the developed world is that of how best to use our land resources. Within the developing world, the same problems exist. The questions of how much and which land should be saved for food and fiber production and which land should be used for nonagricultural uses must be addressed by both developing and developed societies. Agronomists play a crucial role in assessing land quality to assure an environmentally friendly use of land. Studying how plants adapt to differing climates and environments has allowed plant scientists to increase food and fiber production in regions of the world where the necessities of life are most limited. Knowledge gained and disseminated by agronomists in the developed world has helped improve the human condition in the developing world. For example, plant geneticists and breeders use similar hybrid and variety development techniques in both developed and developing countries. Through plant breeding, for example, agronomists have developed high-yielding rice that is adapted to tropical climates. Breakthroughs in gene transfer permit plant breeders to improve grain quality and nutritional traits. These techniques have also contributed to increased production efficiency by genetically incorporating into food crops increased pest resistance and by broadening their range of adaptation.

See also Agriculture, Origins of; Agriculture since the Industrial Revolution; Horticulture; High-Technology Farming.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Leonard, Jonathan N. The First Farmers: The Emergence of Man. Waltham, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1973.

Miflin, B. "Crop Improvement in the 21st Century." Journal of Experimental Botany 51 (2000): 18.

Pierce, Francis J., and Peter Nowak. "Aspects of Precision Agriculture." In Advances in Agronomy. Edited by Donald L. Sparks. Vol. 67. New York: Academic Press, 1999.

United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Washington, D.C. Available at www.usda.gov/nass/aggraphs/graphics.htm.

James J. Vorst

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Agronomist

Agronomist

An agronomist is a professional who practices, or does research in the area of, agronomy, which is the art and science of managing field crops and the soils beneath them. Agronomy emerged early in the twentieth century when this component of agriculture involving the growing of plants was separated from animal husbandry. It has continued to evolve as subcategories develop within the crop and soil sciences, such as the study of forage crops, tropical cropping systems, weed science, and turf science and management (the growth of grasses for golf courses and parks).

Seed science and technology, agro-forestry (the growth of timber in plantations), agricultural economics and engineering, and the nutrition, physiology , and ecology of crop plants are other interests of agronomists. They also often concentrate on soil conservation and the structural, chemical, and physical properties of soil that affect the growth of crops. Because of this extensive diversification, professionals working in these fields now often use the specialty to define their occupation rather than the broader designation of agronomist. All of these disciplines contribute toward increasing the productivity of farmlands, enhancing the quality of the agricultural product, and improving the economic efficiency of farming practices.

Because farming cannot always occur under optimal plant growth conditions, many agronomists focus on the utilization of marginal habitats and problems occurring in the less-industrialized countries. These include conditions such as fields under frequent water deficiency, where dry-land farming practices can be utilized, and farming on nutrient-poor soils. Others seek to make plants grow under saline conditions; in extremely hot or cold environments; or in habitats with abbreviated growing seasons. Many of these challenges can be resolved through traditional plant breeding or the application of biotechnology.

These scientifically based aspects of the profession require undergraduate college study. In the United States, this is frequently at federally established land-grant universities. Many of these individuals become farm managers or owners, county agricultural agents, or work in industry or the federal government. Students interested in these subjects need to follow a college preparatory track focusing on science, computer, and writing skills and, where possible, courses covering practices in business and agriculture. Internships or applied experience in agricultural operations can provide practical information that is very useful in making career decisions. Furthermore, the continually increasing emphasis on scientific research by agronomists provides opportunities for trained scientists to contribute to the growth of knowledge in agronomy. Masters degree and doctorate programs can be entered as a continuation of undergraduate applied study, or following liberal arts degrees, particularly in biology or geology with an emphasis on soil science.

see also Biotechnology; Plant Nutrition; Soil

Dean Cocking

Bibliography

Hillel, Daniel J. Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992.

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Agronomist

Agronomist

Agronomy is the branch of agriculture and biology that explores the principles and concepts of plants and soils sciences. It also examines management practices designed to optimize production for the benefit of humankind while protecting nature's resources. Agronomy is derived from the Greek words agros (field) and nomos (to manage).

Agronomy has been recognized as a separate and distinct branch of agriculture since the early 1900s, when departments of agriculture at land-grant universities were split into animal science and agronomy units. In 1900 agronomy units included crop science, soil science, farm management (agricultural economics), and agricultural engineering. In the 1920s and 1930s separate departments of agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, crop science, and soil science emerged. This trend to create specialized departments at the college or university level has resulted in less use of the term agronomy; however, it certainly has not diminished the meaning of or demand for resource managers charged with the responsibility of protecting and utilizing land, water, and plants for the benefit of humankind.

Diversity of Activities and Career Fields

Agronomy is an amalgamation of many narrowly defined disciplines or specializations focused on providing the practicing agronomist with the knowledge and understanding to make management decisions that increase productivity, utilize resources most efficiently, protect the environment, and serve society. Agronomy reflects a combination of laboratory, field, and processing activities.

Throughout the twentieth century shifts in member interests resulted in the emergence of new specializations or subdisciplines. Many reflect areas of research requiring advance study or graduate degrees. Agronomists have become renewable resource managers, particularly in the area of highly important commercial farming activities where optimizing production using new, cost-effective technology is key. Agronomists also manage various kinds of landscapes and the vegetation occupying them for direct use by humans, the support of livestock and wildlife, development of water resources, and for aesthetic, recreational, and military uses.

Agronomists at the bachelor's level find about 60 percent employment in the private sector and 30 percent in the public sector (10 percent pursue graduate studies). Graduate-level employment is approximately 65 percent in the public sector and 35 percent in the private sector.

see also Agriculture, Modern; Agriculture, Organic.

Vernon B. Cardwell

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agronomy

agronomy (əgrŏn´əmē), branch of agriculture dealing with various physical and biological factors—including soil management, tillage, crop rotation, breeding, weed control, and climate—related to crop production. Agronomy commonly refers to field crops, e.g. wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, soybean, cotton, as well as pasture, sugar, and forage crops; while horticulture is concerned with fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants; silviculture, or forestry, with forest trees; and agroforestry, with mixtures of trees with other crops.

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agronomy

a·gron·o·my / əˈgränəmē/ • n. the science of soil management and crop production. DERIVATIVES: ag·ro·nom·ic / ˌagrəˈnämik/ adj. ag·ro·nom·i·cal / ˌagrəˈnämikəl/ adj. ag·ro·nom·i·cal·ly / ˌagrəˈnämik(ə)lē/ adv. a·gron·o·mist / -mist/ n.

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agronomy

agronomy Science of soil management and improvement in the interests of agriculture. It includes the studies of particular plants and soils and their interrelationships. Agronomy involves disease-resistant plants, selective breeding, and the development of chemical fertilizers.

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agronomy

agronomy A branch of agriculture concerned with the theoretical and practical production of crops, and with the management of soils.

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agronomy

agronomy A branch of agriculture concerned with the theoretical and practical production of crops, and with the management of soils.

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agronomist

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agronomy

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