WHAT IS AGRONOMY?

Agronomy is the science of agriculture. Depending on the agricultural system, it encompasses everything from the science of the soil and seed growth to plant genetics, water systems (or hydrology) and biotechnology. Fundamental to agronomy is a comprehensive understanding of the soil and how different soil characteristics affect growth. This knowledge helps agronomists to develop fertilisers, come up with new farming methods, produce new types of feed and diagnose plant disease. With respect to aquaculture, agronomy plays a vital role in understanding the soil under and around the farming ponds, developing the best feed for fish and prawns, and controlling seaweed and other plant growth within the ponds.

Here are a few things an agronomist might study or consider in their research:

THE SOIL

The soil in which crops are planted varies dramatically depending on location, past use, amount of sun and water exposure, natural biological inputs, and any fertilisers added. Soils can vary in salinity, acidity, level of various nutrients, composition, ability to hold water, and many other variables that dramatically affect plant growth. Agronomists look at how the characteristics of soil align with different crops, what changes can be made to the soil to grow crops that are in demand, how soil is affecting surrounding agriculture (and aquaculture) systems, and how growing strategies need to be tailored to work best with the soil. Put simply, the soil is at the heart of the science of agronomy.

THE CROP VARIETY

Agronomists study closely the trade off between growing the crops that are in highest demand and getting the most out of the soil that is available. For example, while a cactus can grow in soil that holds very little water and has few nutrients, it may not be useful for widespread consumption. Instead, such soil may require fertilisers and other work to grow plants that are more beneficial. Alternatively, sometimes farms may focus on crops that are not appropriate to their land and would benefit dramatically from either switching completely to other crops that are in demand or introducing a greater variety of crops. Otherwise, yields will not be of a high quality, prone to fail (at huge financial cost to the grower) and/or a strain on natural resources like water supply. Agronomy may also consider how non-native crops can be adapted to grow in similar environmental conditions.

FARMING PRACTICES

The relationship between crops and the soil is not the only factor that agronomists study. They also look at how different farming practices impact on the outcomes of a crop. These practices include irrigation habits, plant maintenance and harvesting, and fertilisation, among others. For example, with respect to irrigation techniques, the science of agronomy would help to determine exactly at what time of day and what temperature of water are most effective. Agronomy would also focus on determining at which stage of the growth process a crop would benefit most from an input of fertiliser. With so many inputs involved in agriculture, the science of agronomy can become extremely complex and often technical.

Much of the science of agronomy also informs the science of aquaculture, which looks at many similar questions with respect to growing prawns or fish.

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