25 Jan Blog 1. The highs and lows of being a trainee agronomist
Anything but the generic 9-5.
Having just completed my masters, under the backdrop of lockdown, when Rob and Roger offered to start my Agronomy Training straight away, I was relieved and frankly a bit smug at having acquired my dream job in such a year! After spending three months working on my dissertation, I took a week to “recharge my batteries”, and then jumped straight into training, completely naive to what the next five months would bring. On reflection, I greatly underestimated how challenging the first few months would be, the addictive nature of the job, and the changes I would see in myself over such a short period of time.
This blog will record the highs and lows of my journey to become a fully-fledged agronomist and be an honest account of the challenges and joys choosing a career in independent agronomy can bring.
In the first few months I have battled through knee-deep autumn mud, over barbed wire fences, through thick hedgerows and “bobbed behind” more trees and walls than I would care to count. 75% of my time is spent unsure about which county I am in, blindly following whoever I am shadowing that day, desperately trying to absorb everything they say. Perhaps this says more about me than I would care to admit, however I can often be found saying “I can’t believe I get paid to do this” to family and friends.
If you like routine, the life of a trainee agronomist is not for you.
From week one I was in the field with different members of the team almost every day of the week. I covered the first half of the season of a huge range of crops, feverishly made notes, trying to commit actives, cultivations, timings, rotations and quite frankly client names to memory. Within my first week, I was also thrown into presenting my project to an intimidating client (thanks Roger), which I guess went well as I have continued what has felt like a presentation a week, to an increasingly large audience.
I do not make the same commute every morning, I never know when/ where I will get my lunch and I don’t punch out at 5pm. It has been a rare occasion the last few months when I could answer my housemates, when will you be home question and we have since resorted to her tracking me across the country. Combined with this, the job is active and constantly trying to recall and commit new information to memory means I am often both mentally as well as physically exhausted. Once or twice a week I make the trek to Rob, in Banbury, setting off at around 6 in the morning. My new schedule, alongside lots of driving, meant that I rarely made it to 9pm without putting on my pjs in the first few weeks. I love the challenge of being in a team that demands a lot from you, however on rare occasions I found myself questioning my choices. The rewards such as finally being able to distinguish shepherds’ purse, poppy and hedge mustard make it all worth it. I promise they look identical in the field!!
October brought its own challenge, the weather, a subject I have become expert in. After a few days on the quad in the pouring rain, I slowly gave up the farfetched hope that I could be glamorous (Disclaimer: I never have been), however wiping mud off your face really makes you rethink bothering to put that mascara on, although Rob insists it is good for the complexion! Having been someone who rarely feels the cold, I now reach for the thermal trousers each morning and my all-in-one thermal bodysuit has become a staple, with my car containing enough kit to keep most of Cambridgeshire warm and dry, none of it likely to appear on a catwalk. October also brought with it the start of my BASIS online training. I was grateful I had covered most of it previously in the field, however as it has progressed the sheer amount of content, I need to know is overwhelming. I also started my BASIS project, having a fantastic time transporting a crimper roller halfway across the country (sorry Rob!) and loving the fortnightly visit to assess it- more to follow.
In November, I started training for the FACTS exam. The stress and pressure of wanting to pass (in the main self-imposed) meant I spent much of December feverishly making revision notes and desperately trying to commit fertiliser nutrient contents to memory. I also spent a large amount of time on the phone, asking question after question mainly about manures (who knew there could be so much to learn about poo). I also passed my quadbike proficiency training and whizzing around the countryside now holds a certain satisfaction.
Being outside is a highlight of the job and looking out on a clear crisp morning, makes the challenges of outdoor working completely worth it. With views like this on a Monday morning who could disagree! Getting to know the team has also been a joy of the past few months. I have been treated to copious cups of coffee, been amazed at the team’s willingness to share their knowledge, and I am guaranteed a laugh whoever I spend the day with.
The new year brings with it its own challenges. This week I presented to nearly 30 clients over zoom which was very intimidating and attended the AICC annual conference virtually. I have also had the realisation that my BASIS exam, in June, suddenly seems quite close. I am petrified that I have forgotten absolutely everything over the extended winter break however, working from home for most of winter means I am desperate to get back out in the field and throw myself into the spring season.
Watch this space!