Everyone wants to know how farmers make decisions. Public and private organizations with an interest in farming have distributed numerous surveys to the farming community to learn why farmers do what they do. The world relies on the western states for a steady supply of safe, high-quality agricultural products. It is understandable people outside of farming would want to know what farmers are up to. It is also not surprising they have to ask. A tiny fraction of the U.S. population is currently involved in farming and the number is shrinking. From developing policy to selling products, everyone wants a peek inside the barn.
Pest Control Advisors
The results of the surveys have been consistent. Farmers rank their dealer representatives and consultants as among the strongest influential groups (Figure 1). A Purdue University survey of farmers in Indiana indicates, “dealers and consultants are by far the most influential group in helping farmers make decisions about agricultural practices.”
In the West, another survey focused on conservation or Best Management Practices determined “Crop Advisors are the most consulted source of technical assistance in helping farmers change nutrient management and irrigation practices.” (Figure 2) It seems clear that having boots on the farmer’s ground brings a level of trust and credibility to recommendations.
California and Arizona require salespeople to maintain a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) license in order to sell, recommend or act “as authority on” restricted use pesticides. These hard-working men and women spend many hours as a farmer’s extra set of trusted eyes and feet in their fields, helping farmers tackle some of the most challenging problems facing agriculture with a shrinking number of options and more people staring over their shoulder every day. Farmers count on their PCAs to know their fields, crops, the pesticide laws and the products that are the most cost-effective solutions to their problems. It takes extensive knowledge, experience and qualifications to be a PCA. They are essential.
Pest management recommendations are strict and the guidelines are narrow. Restricted pesticides can only be used on registered crops at recommended rates according to the pesticide label, a legal document. Nutrient management on the other hand does not have the narrow guidelines of pest control. Writing a good fertility program is more nuanced. Labels for common bulk agricultural fertilizers do not contain any use recommendations. A balanced, sustainable fertilizer program that accounts for interactions of soil, tissue and irrigation water takes an even higher level of agronomic understanding. It takes a Certified Crop Advisor.
Certified Crop Advisers
Regulatory pressures to reduce the impact of nitrogen fertilizer on ground and surface waters are increasing. In California, nitrogen management plans are now required for most farmers. The plans are a “checkbook” accounting of nitrogen inputs and outputs to gather data on how farming practices are influencing nitrate in ground and surface water in farming regions of California. The complexity of solving the nitrate groundwater contamination puzzle is imposing. Without data, it is impossible to understand if farming practices are improving over time.
When the California State Water Resources Control Board was deciding who best to verify nitrogen management plans, it was soon apparent that the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) program was the logical choice. CCAs are field professionals who are certified in the fields of crop, soil, water and nutrient management as well as pest management. In order to be certified, a candidate must meet academic standards, have field experience with references and pass two exams, one international and the other regional, that cover a wide range of agronomic topics. Certification exams are unlike academic tests that have both easy and hard questions. Certification exam questions focus on a more than basic level of understanding for all agronomic subjects. The CCA exam is dreaded by most candidates, and it is not uncommon to retake the exam more than once. Those that do pass are part of an elite team.
CCAs do much more for their farmer customers than sign nitrogen management plans, however. Hiring a PCA with the CCA means you are working with the best in the agricultural industry. Pest management is critical for maintaining yield and quality potential, but fertility management is all about return on investment. Time and time again, a dollar wisely spent on well-timed fertilizer applications to meet plant demand returns many dollars. The high value of agricultural products grown in the West means the farmer’s budget for nutrients needs to be fine-tuned to get the most performance possible. The CCA is the qualified professional to give the farmer the appropriate options for many profitable seasons to come.