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What does an agronomist do? A day in the life at Cargill.

Read Time: 8 minutes

June 11, 2024


Farmers are the original stewards of our planet. 

Every day, they tirelessly tend crops and livestock, ensuring food reaches our tables.

Their commitment extends beyond sustenance. They strive for sustainable food systems and addressing environmental challenges, while also ensuring their businesses are successful and resilient.

But there are others in the agricultural industry who can help them. Enter the conservation agronomist.


What is a conservation agronomist?

The definition of an agronomist? Put simply, an agronomist is an expert in managing soil and crop production. 

A conservation agronomist is more specifically focused on helping farmers use sustainable agricultural practices on the farm. That’s an important focus of our Cargill agronomists.

They are part educators — teaching farmers how to use soil health practices that improve crop resilience, conserve water and cultivate success.

They are part data detectives — investigating crop yields and environmental impact and giving actionable advice.

They are part researchers — designing and conducting field trials to test new practices and technologies.

And most importantly, they are trusted advisors — creating win-wins for farmers’ livelihoods and the environment.

What’s that like? Follow along for a day in the life of a conservation agronomist.


7:56 a.m.: In the field with farmers curious about regenerative agriculture

 conservation agronomist stands in front of rows of corn.Conservation agronomist Janelle Leach helps farmers understand the benefits of regenerative agriculture in the United States.  Janelle Leach is up early in a farm in rural Ohio in the United States.

The Cargill conservation agronomist and a few of her colleagues are preparing for farmers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio — as well as community stakeholders — to join them in the field. On the agenda: teaching them more about Cargill RegenConnect®, our award-winning regenerative agriculture program. 

This “field day” gives Janelle the chance to do what she does best: educate farmers about how to build soil health, protect their land and maximize their environmental outcomes with practices such as cover crops and reduced- or no-till farming. 

“Farmers carry a heavy weight — feeding the world — knowing their choices affect whole communities,” Janelle says. “Being in this role, I can educate farmers to use best practices in sustainability, and also explain what sustainability is to their communities in an easy-to-understand way.”


9:03 a.m.: Soil science from the ground up

A conservation agronomist uses a machine to dig deeply into a farm field to show healthy soil to farmers.Conservation agronomist Matthieu Perraudin digs deep into the soil in a farm field in France to show farmers an example of healthy soil.

A conservation agronomist looks at soil in a farm field in France.Conservation agronomist Matthieu Perraudin helps farmers understand the benefits of regenerative agriculture in Europe. As the sun rises over the French countryside, Matthieu Perraudin is heading to his home office, coffee cup in hand, to start his morning ritual: soil health data analysis. 

Satellite imagery, soil moisture levels, nutrient content and microbial activity — Matthieu is looking at all these crucial pieces of the puzzle to understand the soil health of local farmlands. 

Matthieu knows healthy soil is the secret to thriving crops, resilient ecosystems and ultimately a better future for all. The conservation agronomist is responsible for educating farmers about soil health and helping to enroll them in Cargill RegenConnect®, which expanded to Europe last May.

“Farmers who adopt regenerative practices often experience a deeper connection with nature, insects, worms and birds,” Matthieu says. ”This shift leads to reduced pesticide and insecticide use, even if it wasn’t part of their original plan.”


10:16 a.m.: On the lookout for clues and critters

A conservation agronomist looks at soil in a farm field in France.Senior Market Development Agronomist Tracy Kinch counts newly emerged canola in a field. She helps farmers understand the benefits of regenerative agriculture in Canada.

Tracy Kinch starts her day in a field full of dirt that will soon become an expanse of bright yellow canola flowers — one of many scattered across Saskatchewan, Canada. 

She’s scouting for telltale signs of fungal diseases and insect activity that could distress crop quality and yields. The senior market development agronomist crouches and scoops a few seedlings and soil for a closer look for disease symptoms and larvae. 

"Early detection and management can dramatically reduce crop losses," Tracy says. 

She hopes the farmer took her advice: avoid planting canola in the same field consecutively. It’s an effective management strategy for blackleg and other perennial challenges. A ladybug scurries by — a tiny ally in the battle against aphids. Things are looking good so far, she thinks.

As a conduit between farmers and parts of the supply chain like grain elevators and merchants, Tracy sounds the alarm when she notices issues developing. She also notifies neighboring farms about these potential threats so they can take protective measures.


11:53 a.m.: Digging in with farmers

A woman gives a presentation in a white tent set up in farm field.Conservation agronomist Janelle Leach gives a presentation about Cargill RegenConnect, one of our regenerative agriculture programs.

Throughout the farmer event, Janelle talks about the financial incentives and support for farmers who enroll in Cargill RegenConnect. She walks them through the tools that will help them track, measure and report their progress.

Janelle knows how important it is for farmers to see the numerous tangible benefits of adopting regenerative agriculture, like soil erosion protection, moisture management, improved nutrient retention, weed suppression, pest management and reduced fuel and fertilizer costs.

It not only motivates them to continue with these practices but also helps attract more farmers to do the same, she says.

“In my region, Cargill RegenConnect farmer participation shows that farmers are learning, advancing and becoming more and more successful implementing these practices on their farms,” Janelle states.


1:34 p.m.: Covered in sustainability

A lush green farm field of thriving cover crops in the French countrysideA lush field of thriving cover crops in the French countryside. Cover crops are a key strategy in regenerative agriculture.

After lunch, Matthieu meets with farmer cooperative members. On the agenda: carbon sequestration and the benefits of cover crops in regenerative agriculture. 

The looks on their faces show a spectrum of eagerness to skepticism. Undeterred, Matthieu patiently explains the benefits of cover crops: richer soil, less erosion, more pollinators buzzing about, pesky weeds and pests kept at bay, and “carbon sequestration.” 

This is a buzzword that farmers have heard a lot lately. Cover crops help turn their fields into carbon-absorbing sponges — capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. 

During the meeting, a consensus emerges: sustainable farming is the right thing to do. It’s a belief Matthieu shares to his core.

“I enjoy the human relationships with farmers who need help and don’t make much money for tough work,” Matthieu says. “I’m convinced regenerative practices can improve their profitability, time savings and resilience to climate and market changes.”


2:51 p.m.: On fertile ground

A women compares the impact of two different fertilizer blends on roots and leaf growth of durum wheat.Senior Market Development Agronomist Tracy Kinch conducts a durum wheat trial, comparing the impact of two different fertilizer blends on roots and leaf growth.

In Canada, a focus of Cargill RegenConnect® is reducing nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer (Canadian farmers have been using reduced- and no-till practices for years). That is why Tracy and her team work with farmers on a nutrient plan to feed their crops the right product at the right time.

“The farmer scientist” — as her father once called her — knows it’s important to make scientific data easily consumable. Tracy knows this is a key challenge for farmers, who must manage all the new terminologies, technologies and innovations in agriculture. 

“It can be overwhelming for farmers,” Tracy says. “My role helps bridge that gap between the technical side and farmers' practical realities on the ground.”


3:53 p.m.: Sustainability is everyone’s business

A group of people in a farm field.  Cargill colleagues teach farmers and stakeholders about regenerative agriculture practices.

Born and raised in the city, Janelle enjoys spending time in the country, like this afternoon. She is at a farm giving demonstrations on the benefits of using cover crops.

She works closely with grain sales representatives to seamlessly bring sustainability into grain buying conversations. In the past, reps thought that the topic required the expertise of an agronomist on site, but nowadays, agronomists at Cargill are being called upon to instill confidence in other farmer-facing employees. Employees have grown more confident with sustainability on the farm and can point out possible solutions to the farmers.

“When I was hired, they weren't sure exactly what my role entailed,” Janelle recalls. “I was told, ‘You're going to learn what needs doing and do what needs to be done to support farmers and our colleagues who can use your expertise.’ 

And that’s exactly what Janelle does every minute of her workday.


Are you interested in finding a role in sustainability at Cargill? View open roles and learn how you can join our team of professionals who are shaping the future.


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