Gary L. Hein
Date of this Version
Briese, L. 2019. Science Communication in Agriculture: The Role of the Trusted Adviser. Doctor of Plant Health Doctoral Document. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Agronomy is not simply the selling of agricultural products to farmers, nor is it the process of solving singular production problems. Agronomy is defined as the integrated, holistic perspective of agriculture (ASA, 2019) and “agronomists are specialists in crop and soil sciences, as well as ecology” (ASA, 2019). While scientific investigation and discovery are essential to understanding systems function, the tangible benefits from our knowledge stems from the application to solve problems. Clear communication is vital to successfully help stakeholders understand the importance of the science and help scientists understand the challenges stakeholders face. However, to successfully put science into action, solutions need to address the whole system and strategies need to be customized. To this end it is critical to be able to detect, accurately diagnose and prioritize the problems and challenges within agricultural systems. These steps cannot be carried out remotely or by those who lack the skills or knowledge. Rather, they must be performed by well-trained, experienced people who can translate information into actionable practices. Furthermore, stakeholders need to trust that the advice is accurate and applicable to their system, hence the important role of the trusted adviser. The trusted adviser is someone with the knowledge and skills to assess the entire system, access to scientists and full comprehension of the research. They also must understand the needs and challenges faced by the stakeholder farmers and gain their trust. These trusted advisers play a pivotal role in the capability of agriculture to respond to climate change, population increase and establishing sustainable systems. Our future depends not only on the discovery of scientific knowledge but more so on the application of it. What good are the solutions if no one ever uses them?
The following document was written to address communication challenges discovered during an internship working with university extension specialists to deliver programming to farmers and directly advising university researchers on practical challenges that farmers face. These on-farm barriers often prevent farmers from adopting new practices. It is also the culmination of twenty years of field experience serving farmers by scouting, identifying, prioritizing, problem solving, communicating, compromising and building trust. This document is intended to urge all practitioners of agronomy and the related agricultural sciences to become trusted advisers, elevate their practice to a new level and approach the challenges of agriculture from a systems point of view. They also need to create actionable strategies not only to protect crop yields but also to protect the soil, the environment, the ecosystem and the well being of the farmer and of everyone who partakes of the bounty.
Adviser: Gary L. Hein