Q&A With A Student Agronomy Assistant At Cargill


When you ate breakfast this morning, did you consider how much work may have gone into producing the food you ate?

If, like many Canadians, you had toast, a bagel or cereal for breakfast, the crops that make up your food were probably carefully maintained and inspected by not only the farmer but also teams of people who specialize in the science and technology of producing plants for food and other uses.

“As a summer student [at Cargill], I was trained very well on how to identify damage in the field, such as frost damage, diseases on plants, insect feeding and how to identify various weeds.” —Dustin, third-year agronomy student, University of Manitoba

One of the first people in this production chain is an agronomist – someone who pays careful attention to how farmers’ crops interact with other plants, the soil and the weather, as well as any insects, animals or diseases that may make their way into the field.

Dustin, a third-year agronomy student at the University of Manitoba, took an important step toward becoming an agronomist last summer when he completed an agronomy assistant internship with Cargill, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services.

Dustin, 20, says the experience he had while scouting fields in Yorkton, Sask. – more than 450 km from school in Winnipeg, where he’s an executive member of the Faculty of Agriculture Students’ Organization and a council member on the Agri-business Students’ Assocaition – was so positive that he’s decided to return to Cargill for a second summer doing similar work, this time a little closer to home in Oakner, Man.

Upon graduation, he will not only posses a bachelor of science in agriculture with a major in agronomy, but also at least eight months of on-the-job experience with an internationally recognized leader in agriculture.

Q. What was your experience like last summer?
A. My job last summer was to scout fields for farmers to do crop checks to see the health of the crop and to search for any pests in the field (weeds, insects, disease and wildlife). For the most part, I was working alone in the field, but I was always in contact with my agronomist and the rest of the staff at the elevator.

As a summer student, I was trained very well on how to identify damage in the field, such as frost damage, diseases on plants, insect feeding and how to identify various weeds.

Q. What was the best part and the most challenging part of your job?
A. The best part of my job was the fact that I was doing something that I actually enjoyed doing, and also the fact that as an agronomy assistant I’m basically doing a summer job which is entirely what I am planning to do when I’m graduated, i.e., become a full-time agronomist.

The most challenging part of my job was the insect identification. As the threshold levels for different insects are different, it is important to be able to properly identify insects.

Q. Why did you decide to come back to Cargill for a second summer?
A. I decided to come back to Cargill for another summer because I really enjoyed my job and love the learning and skill development involved. The agriculture industry is constantly changing and developing and, as a crop scout, you are learning on a daily basis. There are developments and research constantly changing the industry whether it is new varieties of plants, new chemicals being created, or just new farming practices.

Q. What will you be doing in Summer 2011, and how is it different from last summer?
A. This summer I will be in the same position as last summer but working out of Oakner, Man. This summer I will be taking on more responsibilities than last year as one of the agronomy assistants.

I am going to learn how to make chemical recommendations for the spraying of pesticides in the fields. Chemical recommendations are a complex part of agronomy as there are many different factors to consider (type and severity of pests, effectiveness of the chemical, etc.) and many different chemical formulations to choose from.

Q. What is the agriculture industry really like in 2011?
A. Farming has always come with that stereotype of Farmer Joe in his overalls with a straw hat and wheat stem in his mouth sitting on the old green tractor plowing the field, but in reality we are big business in Canada. Farming is a blend of both science and art, and the importance of the agriculture industry in Canada is frequently overlooked. Agriculture is a major contributor to the Canadian economy and is the only industry we have that is 100% sustainable. People will always need to eat.

Q. What advice do you have for students a few years behind you who are interested in careers in agriculture?
A. My advice to anyone even remotely interested in agriculture would be to keep an open mind and not let the stereotype of agriculture influence you.

To anybody considering going on to post-secondary school: we receive science degrees and have an amazing employment rate for both summer positions and full-time jobs. Anybody going through school should try to get involved outside the classroom as much as possible. Personally, I had no industry contacts before going into school, but just from working on various councils and volunteering for events, I have been able to start networking with the industry. In industry they always say it’s not what you know but who you know, and agriculture is no different.


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About the author

Cassandra Jowett is TalentEgg's Content Manager. She joined the team as a student intern in the summer of 2008, and since then her heart has never really left the Egg Carton. Cassandra is a recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, where she earned a Bachelor of Journalism with a focus in writing and editing for newspapers. She has also written and edited for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, t.o.night newspaper and other publications.