"Why do I benefit from hiring a professional crop consultant?"

Crop Consultants:  Your Farm's Investment in the Future       by Carl Hobbs

A farmer is constantly in the "market" for advice, and like any wise businessman, he questions what anything is going to "cost," including advisory services.  Engaging the services of a private consultant should be regarded as an investment in future profitability.

As Extension budgets shrink and local offices suffer from problems of funding and filling needed staff positions, it is becoming more difficult for county agents to advise farmers on an individual basis.  It is common for the Extension Service to rely on consultants to funnel knowledge and technology to farmer clients.  Technology is growing at a rapid pace and farms are increasing in size; using new technology effectively and efficiently requires more time on today's farm.

Farm suppliers provide information and recommendations to growers.  In most cases, they function like a druggist at the corner drug store who, when asked, recommends aspirin for a headache, but does not offer detailed examinations.  Other suppliers do offer more elaborate services, sometimes at a reduced fee.  These fees are often subsidized through the purchase of products; some may require that all production inputs be purchased from the dealership as a way to support the consulting service.  The dealer may find himself in the awkward position of being perceived to recommend higher cost inputs to justify profits, when the input is in fact justified.  Consultants, as well as dealers, are often accused of a "Rambo" type approach to production.

A professional consultant, such as those certified by the Georgia Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants or the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, is in the business of supplying information and advisory services to grower/clients for a fee.  Such fees are their primary source of income, and are not affiliated with the sale of any products.  As with any business venture, the successful ag consultant stays in business by helping his clients make more profits.

With the expansion of cotton acres in Georgia, consultants are used in pest management scouting, but also in irrigation management, soil sampling, fertility planning and nutrient management.  There are needs in other areas of production as well, including weed control programs, variety selection, and tillage, which is beneficial with the continued progress in conservation tillage cultural practices.  However, it's important to understand that whatever areas of specialization a professional crop advisor may offer, most are generalists who offer expertise in every phase of production. The best way to get maximum return on your investment is to include your crop consultant in every phase of managing your operation, from planning what to plant where, to keeping field records.

When a grower decides to consider hiring a consultant, he needs to consider a few questions, such as years of experience in this area, perhaps a list of some other clients, the adviser's techniques for sampling and collecting data, and how he uses the data to make decisions.  Additionally, he needs to know exactly what qualifies the adviser to be a consultant.

The last question is important; in addition to a list of satisfied customers and years of experience, the individual should be a certified crop professional.  Certification programs such as the Georgia Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants (GAPAC), National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC) and the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) program show that qualifying individuals do indeed meet certain minimum requirements of work experience, education, and continuing education.

Perhaps the most important credential your crop consultant should have is an ability to relate to you and your management style.  Be sure to pick a person you trust and feel comfortable with.  Talk to other farmers who use the individual's service, and prepare to talk over all decisions with the new member of your management team.  Life should be simpler and more profitable as a result.

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