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Several definitions were found on the Internet. The shortest definition was "The science of crop production". The longest was "The branch of agriculture/horticulture that deals with the theory and practice of field crop production and the scientific management of soil". Both of these definitions are very broad and encompass an extremely wide range of issues that farmers deal with on a day to day basis. Many decisions that a farmer makes almost without thinking are agronomically related. For example, just setting up his irrigation schedule tests his abilities to judge soil/water relationships in relation to crop use, weather, and water availability. Choosing a plant variety that is suited for his ranch and planting date is a crucial decision for a successful crop.
Some decisions in the area of "crop protection" are left to professionals (PCA's). Farmers have employed PCA's for years to recommend the correct pesticides to control insects, weeds, and diseases that can affect the production of crops. Only in recent years have farmers employed "agronomist" to make fertility recommendations based on soil and plant samples taken before and during crop growth. Farmers are learning that the old standard guidelines of just adding some nitrogen and phosphorus to fields is not adequate in these times of high production costs.
A good farmer and a good fisherman have a lot in common. A fisherman uses various techniques to tell him what he can not see in the water. Certain lures and presentations can tell him what kind of structure (rocks, ledges, humps) or cover (wood or grass) is present in the water. Based on this and other information, he can adjust his approach to catching fish. The same is true with farming. A farmer can not see what is below the soil surface, so he must depend on soil sampling to tell him what the soil needs. Taking the samples is only part of the picture. Interpreting the results of the samples is where an agronomist expertise is necessary. The integration of soil science and computers has produced new technology that can apply the correct amount of fertilizer to a given area of the field based on the results of the samples.
Cropping patters have changed with more and more forage crops being planted. These crops produce a huge biomass containing large amounts of elemental nutrients that are removed from the field over time. With the various reports of nutrient deficiencies that I have seen over the past three years, I strongly suggest evaluating your field's nutrient capacities before planting. Let the agronomist take care of the soil issues and lets go fishing.
Herman Meister, U of C Cooperative Extension