An agronomist's view of recent times

Agronomist Ollie Johnson looks after Agrovista customers across the midlands. Here he reflects on the challenges and opportunities of recent times, particularly the changes instigated by COVID-19.

Ollie Johnson, agronomist

“Agronomy is a rewarding career and I love it, but it can be a lonely pursuit. Many hours are spent walking fields and monitoring crops, so a cup of tea and a chat with customers proves a welcome break from the solitude. 

Unfortunately, as a consequence of COVID-19, that’s no longer possible. Although recently, something else has made an appearance on our farms. Something that we hadn’t seen for some time and yet on it, we all depend. When it did come, some wished we didn’t have quite so much and no, I’m not talking about the rain, I’m talking about the public!


It’s ironic really as I have one of the most socially distanced jobs in the country yet found myself diving into the crop to avoid passing walkers on the tramlines. Never before have I seen so many people out and about, enjoying the wonderful outdoor space that the countryside and its farmers provide. 


One highlight was while moving some grain between farms, a young toddler stopped and waved at the tractor from the seat of his pram. A quick toot on the air horns and it made his day (and him mine). 

I found myself talking to a family about field beans who were fascinated by the flowers, an elderly couple about irrigation and even a young family who took a special interest in my drone. All really uplifting stuff and I suddenly began feeling really quite upbeat about the positive attitude towards UK farming.

But what I have noticed during these conversations was the attitude towards ‘pesticides’, or Plant Protection Products as we now should call them.

From the horror that a crop may be sprayed with a chemical designed to protect its health and increase yield, to after some carefully chosen words, leaving with an understanding that increased yields and growing more crop on less land is beneficial to all of us both economically and environmentally. 

Open Farm Sunday

I often talk to visiting families about this on Open Farm Sunday, but unfortunately it was cancelled this year in its usual guise and broadcast online instead. In many ways though, it was one of the most successful years of the event.

It showed the public what farming is really about and I can only hope that this is reflected in their buying habits when they next visit the supermarket. 

There’s been a lot reported and on social media regarding the general public being in the countryside. It’s easy to forget that upon these people we all depend. Whilst the COVID-19 crisis presented its challenges, it presented opportunities too but some were perhaps missed. 

Making the most of opportunities

I feel passionately about helping the public to understand what we do. Ally Hunter-Blair and others on programmes such as ‘Born Mucky’ do a stellar job at championing our industry to consumers at home, and now more importantly than ever, abroad too. 

It made me realise that to drive a change in their mindset, we need a change in our attitude towards them. For me, that’s some simple laminated signs on the gateposts, not telling people to STAY AWAY but instead explaining about those flowering beans and that ‘giant sprinkler’.”