AGRONOMY. Agronomy embraces the branch of agriculture that deals with the development and practical management of plants and soils to produce food, feed, and fiber crops in a manner that preserves or improves the environment. The term "agronomy" represents the disciplines of soils, crops, and related sciences. In the soils area, specialties include soil microbiology, soil conservation, soil physics, soil fertility and plant nutrition, chemistry, biochemistry, and mineralogy. Specialties in the crops area relate primarily to plant genetics and breeding, crop physiology and management, crop ecology, turf-grass management, and seed production and physiology. Researchers in agronomy often work in close cooperation with scientists from disciplines such as entomology, pathology, chemistry, and engineering in order to improve productivity and reduce environmental problems. Even though less than 2 percent of the U.S. population are farmers who actively produce farm crops, the need for agronomists by other segments of society is increasing.
In the United States, field crops consist of those plants grown on an extensive scale, which differs from horticultural crops, which are usually grown intensively in orchards, gardens, and nurseries, but the distinctions are disappearing. Some of the major agronomic crops grown in the United States are alfalfa and pasture crops, peanuts, corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, sorghum, oats, barley, and rice. Soil management aspects of agronomy encompass soil fertility, land use, environmental preservation, and non-production uses of soil resources for building, waste disposal, and recreation. Agronomists who work as soil scientists play extremely important roles in helping preserve water quality and preserve natural environments.
Agronomy is not a new field. As early as 7000 b.c.e. wheat and barley were grown at Jarmo, in present-day Iran. One could argue that the first farmers were in fact agronomists. In prehistoric times, humans shifted from foraging to cultivating specific crops, probably wheat or barley, for their food value. At harvest time, plants with easily gathered grain were selected first. This natural selection eventually made these food plants better adapted to continued cultivation because they were more easily harvested. Throughout the centuries, selection also occurred for other crop characteristics, such as taste, yield, and adaptation to specific soils and climates. The goal of today's production agronomists is essentially the same: to improve the quality, adaptability, and yield of our most important crops.