A day in the life of an Agronomist


Rachael Robinson loves the fact that her team are "so in it for the shareholder".

"Everything we do is for our shareholder's benefit," the Farmlands Lead Agronomist for the South Island says. "We base our advice on industry research, developments and in-field experience."




With the fields in fog, we drive out to an Arable Focus Group in Dunsandel, Canterbury.Rachael has arranged for BASF's Seed Treatment Specialist, Colin Dunstan to brief local field staff. Colin has lots of information to provide Farmlands' TFOs and Agronomists and they discuss the latest seed treatment products, good agronomic practice, field trial results and farmer questions. As a senior expert, Rachael chips in with her brand of straight-up commentary around research, cultivars and performance results over the past few seasons.



Rachael and other senior Grain and Seed colleagues discuss action points from the session and upcoming training programmes for their regional TFOs.



On the way to a Darfield farm, Rachael gets a call from Dean Jones AKA 'Jonesy', a shareholder down the road who is busy harvesting. He has run out of storage and urgently needs someone to take grain off his hands. Rachael pulls over and checks her latest reports – before briefing Jonesy on the Rolleston Mill's current inventory and prices.



Grain testing is mostly done by TFOs but as their crop farm, Flipside, is close and Rachael knows the Jones' well, we swing by.

Jonesy and wife, Tash, are in good spirits despite working until midnight. He is proud to show off the combine harvester and his companion, fox terrier Yogi.

It is clear he enjoys reaping the rewards of his hard work, one year on from planting. He discusses the fire ban and points out where fences need sorting in the coming winter months.

Jumping down we quickly test the quality of the harvest; Rachael is very happy with it. But she still needs to find a buyer for his abundance of grain. On leaving, she calls Grain Trader Carmel Burgess who had been in Dunsandel earlier.



Rachael gets a call from a Farmlands Sales Manager who is checking a TFO applicant. She then points out dairy conversions and the high-ticket irrigation schemes on display in this area, just 25 minutes west of Christchurch.

"My favourite thing is being on-farm with a shareholder at harvest. They have to wait for the seasons to change and hope like hell the weather will play ball. When it all works out there's no better feeling."



We pull into another farm but they're out harvesting. Rachael's job, like that of her clients, is hugely seasonal following the rhythm of planting, growing and harvesting. She checks a few emails in their yard muttering "my ute is my office!"

We discuss safety in the field – making sure she pulls over to check emails and that TFOs avoid driving their utes onto dry paddocks.

As it's so fine all the local farmers are going mad on Snapchat – posting harvest pics/videos and there is a real buzz in the 'air'.



A shareholder has left a grain sample in their shed and the local TFO can't get to it – so we pop in and test what is another fine batch.

"The TFOs and I have already been testing most of the wheat the past month, so we know it's good. I tend to leave the farmers to get on with it at this point," she admits.



Rachael shows me a paddock plan she is working on for a farm. It is transforming its rotational and geographical setup and her advice plays a big part in their decision making.



We yarn about how Rachael keeps up with the latest developments, like her involvement with the Foundation of Arable Research and a past visit to 'cereals' in the UK and leading chemical manufacturers in Germany.



Then it is back to the office to do paperwork and prepare for tomorrow's workshop on a new field app. Rachael loves technical tools that help her deliver solutions for clients across their business – including the new co-operative software.



Rachael gets the call she's been waiting for all day. She has found a home for Jonesy and Tash's grain, for prompt delivery. Rachael lets her clients know so they can sleep a bit easier tonight (no matter what time they hit the hay).



The Farmlands Grain and Seed team is made up of nine Agronomists, Grain Traders, seed stores and support staff. General Manager Grain and Seed, Tim O'Sullivan says the co-operative's scale, combined with his team's technical ability, is a useful combination.

"It gives us exceptional access to products which enables us to tailor solutions for our shareholders," he says.

Working mostly with arable farmers (about 70 percent in Canterbury) means Rachael is constantly advising which cultivars are best for the coming season. She trains Technical Field Officers (TFOs) and works directly with clients.

The work varies greatly Tim says, depending on time of year and area of the country. For example, Agronomist Tim White has been down in Southland supporting shareholders in the wake of severe flooding and Rachael was part of the industry group that helped develop a flood recovery programme for rural professionals in that region.

The team see that many farmers are experiencing stress and Rachael believes that rural professionals can make a positive difference by helping farmers control what they can.

Growing up on an arable farm in Ashburton, agronomy is all Rachael knows. She has been with Farmlands for 6 years now and joining the Agronomist for a day on the road, her passion is evident.