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The Science-Based Voice of the Ag Industry

Advice might be free to give, but when it comes to serving farmers and consumers, the true voice of science-based reason belongs to the agrologist.

If there’s one thing people involved in the science of agrology dislike, it’s having it confused with agronomy. It’s understandable, of course.

It’s a perception problem the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists (SIA) called upon the services of AgriBiz Communications to help rectify.

We assume the majority of you know the differences, but it is important to have a better grasp on what agrology is before we speak on, well, anything ag-related.

Agrology is the application of science to the agriculture and food supply chain continuum—and its central basis is “aiding clients and the public to make informed decisions”.

Agronomy on the other hand, is the science of utilizing plants, animals and soils for food, fuel, feed, fiber, and more to do this effectively and sustainably; it is also a part of agrology.

CAAR Communicator spoke with Valerie Pearson PAg, BAC, Co-opD.D, the Executive Director/Registrar for the SIA, as she sought to better explain how agrologists are, and should be, the informational hotspot for the ag industry, especially when it comes to doling out information.

“Agronomy is a scope of practice within agrology,” noted Pearson PAg. “Professional agrologists advise farmers on agronomic, nutritional, environmental, legal and financial aspects of production.”

Licensed agrologists use the PAg or TechAg designations, such as the one after Pearson’s surname.

In order to teach and provide science-based advice relating to agriculture, food and its related environmental areas, the individual must be a licensed agrologist. A licensed agrologist discussing the science- based facts is a way of ensuring ag businesses remain above board and honest with farmers and the ag industry’s end-user, the consumer.

Agrology began in Canada in 1920 when the Canadian Society of Technical Agriculturists (CSTA) was founded. Its stated purpose was to recognize agriculture science as a profession.

“Professors and scientists from the University of Saskatchewan (USASK) and the Federal Government Research Stations led this initiative because they were concerned about the quality of science-based information being provided to farmers,” said Pearson PAg.

She said that similar concerns were voiced in Québec, which brought about the first Canadian legislation to define agriculture scientists as a regulated profession and formed the Ordre des Agronomes du Québec in 1937.

In Saskatchewan, the Federal Government Research Stations worked with USASK to conduct extensive programs in an effort to help immigrant farmers who had come to the Canadian prairies to own land and engage in farming.

“Those farmers faced enormous challenges managing their dryland farms,” stated Pearson PAg. “They needed appropriate science-based knowledge and suitable prairie-based production techniques in order to succeed.”

She added that agrology first became a regulated profession in Saskatchewan in 1947 via The Agrologists Act after the provincial government required all agrologists to be licensed, following the example set by Québec.

The other eight provinces quickly followed (nine when Newfoundland joined Canada), and now all 10 of the provinces are legislated to regulate agrology.

However, noted Pearson PAg, it was immediately after WWII when ag productivity became even more important as Canada sought to do its part to feed those in war-torn Europe. “The need and demand for professionals with appropriate science-based extension to farmers increased, and it became imperative that the agri-food sector be protected from those who were not trained or qualified to provide knowledge and sound advice about agriculture production.”

Leading the way was Dr. J.B. (James Bishop) Harrington (1894-1980), of the College of Agriculture at USASK. An internationally renowned plant breeder, he developed Apex wheat, Fortune oats, Huskey barley, Royal flax, Antelope rye, and many more.

He is also the one who first came up with the term “agrologist”, rather than professional agriculturists. From the Greek words “agros” – field, and “logist” – scientist, it was quickly accepted across our country and came to cover the work of plant and soil science, animal and food science, environment, and agri-business/economics.

With such eminence in its midst, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture was one of the earliest adopters of utilizing the skillset of the agrologist, and remains the largest employer of agrologists in the province. Even then, the Ministry required all individuals “practicing agrology” as defined by The Agrologists Act, to be registered with the SIA.

Since its humble beginnings, the practice of agrology has remained the same—though as Pearson PAg pointed out, the information constantly changes with new research results.

“With the continuing flow of new research and development within the food and ag industries, the agrology profession grows alongside it, changing and adapting,” she said. “We learn how to improve the safety of such things as the food supply chain, study the effects of the environment, work on solutions to problems affecting the industries, and so much more.”

 

Keeping It Real

Another well-known voluntary advisory program in most of Canada is the CCA (Certified Crop Adviser), whose goal is to ensure a basic level of knowledge through testing and experience, and raising that standard through continuing education. Those who complete the program are considered competent in agronomy and provide honest, well thought out advice to farmers.

Dan Heaney PhD, CCA 4R, PAg, the Alberta Institute of Agrologists representative for the CCA Board said that in provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, if you are providing advice, you are legally required to be a member of the provincial agrology institute.

He said that those who possess the CCA qualifications, may in some instances be allowed to substitute having passed the CCA exams for post secondary course work required by the agrology institutes in provinces where licensing is required.

“It’s not that people can’t speak in the public square or have an opinion,” Heaney stated, “but if you are practicing agrology as a profession in Alberta and other provinces with a mandatory Agrologists Act, you must be licensed.”

Heaney added: “The agrologist institutes are not there to protect the professional space of members or to create barriers to enter agrology, their primary purpose is to protect the public through regulating their membership.”

A key factor for Pearson PAg, is getting the word out about licenced agrologists.

“There’s a protection of title,” she begins. “You cannot call yourself an architect, chartered professional accountant or engineer, for example, unless you are qualified and hold a licence to practice.

“The same holds true within agrology. You cannot call yourself an agrologist unless you have a current licence to practice,” Pearson PAg continued. “It also means there is no such thing as an unlicensed agrologist. You are either an agrologist or you are not an agrologist.”

She noted Section 22 of The Agrologists Act states, that even individuals who are qualified, but do not hold a licence to practice, and are yet practising within the profession, they could be found guilty of an offence and liable to summary conviction of a fine.  

But why is it important to utilize the skillset and services of a licensed agrologist?

How about:

  • Agrologists continue to learn and implement new techniques to help producers;
  • They stay current with the profession;
  • Producers rely on professionals to give accurate information. With technology and the internet searches, it is easy to get information that is not correct—believe it or not, Wikipedia entries can be created or edited by anyone with an opinion;
  • Agrologists may also carry professional liability insurance to protect themselves and their clients against errors and omissions;
  • Agrologists also sign a code of ethics each year when they renew their license—this is an assurance to their customers, that information provided is based on science without bias.

“To become an agrologist is quite the arduous journey—but one well worth it,” suggested Pearson PAg. “For those entering the profession, they must apply to the SIA and complete the articling program first, as either an Articling Agrologist or Articling Technical Agrologist before they can qualify for a Professional Agrologist (PAg) or Technical Agrologist (TechAg) designation.”

Education-wise, Articling Agrologists must have a minimum four-year, 120-credit degree from a recognized university, with 60 of those credits coming from agrology-related courses (agriculture, food, agribusiness or environmental science).

Articling Technical Agrologists need to have a diploma or a degree in agrology from a school or college with at least 40 credits in agrology-related courses (agriculture, food, agribusiness, or environmental science).

It’s important to note that someone who is a licensed agrologist in Ontario, for example, is not legally licensed to work in British Columbia unless they are properly registered in both provinces.

Pearson PAg added: “The SIA only licenses agrologists who work in Saskatchewan. When we receive applications from international graduates looking to practice in the province, their qualifications are reviewed to ensure they meet our national education standards.”

It’s important to note an agrologist is not allowed to work in areas where they lack the specific education, experience or skills required to do the work. “You wouldn’t go to a heart surgeon if you had a brain tumour.”

In Canada, there are about 12,000 agrologists —1,900+ of them in Saskatchewan. Scopes of practice include: ag engineering; ag media & communications; agronomy; animal sciences; agribusiness & economics; environment; food sciences; management (overseeing and managing work processes in the agriculture, food, and related environmental sectors.  

 Those with this scope direct other agrologists, programs, and projects that entail a mixture of scientific and managerial work); plant (crop) sciences; research & development; soil sciences, and; teaching & extension.

While agrology is definitely connected to the farmer, noted Pearson PAg, agrologists work in many areas of agriculture, bioresources, food, and the environment.

“Agrologists are the guardians of the food system, stewards of the environment, and innovators in the economy, and as such, the demand for trained professionals continues to grow.”

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