BERTHOLD, N.D. - Farming methods have been changing with leaps and bounds. Today's modern farming enterprises center around technology that didn't exist a few years ago. That's where the work of experienced agronomists prove exceptionally valuable.

"I think the biggest thing is that farmers have become way more technical," said Ryan Peterson, research director for Vision Research in Berthold. "Farming has probably changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 30 or 40."

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Peterson says North Dakota farmers are good at what they do but not all have been able to keep up with the advances in technology that can help with decisions such as crop rotation, fertilizer application and more.

"There's a huge need for professional agronomists. Farmers don't know what they don't know," said Peterson. "Crop consultants that work under me are kind of unique. They can help with fertilizer, chemicals, seed and crop protection of products that a farmer needs."

Today's informed agronomists can be a farmer's best friend. They offer experienced advice on a variety of farming needs and choices. Many conduct "crop scouts," searching the fields for places where their assistance can pay valuable dividends for the producer.

"Basically we give farmers any advice that they would need. We make plans with the farmer, try to figure out what crops are best, the best rotation," remarked Peterson. "We research what hybrids and varieties will work best in their fields. We soil test in the fall and figure out nutrient needs for the coming season."

Farmers who relied on advice from other farmers or those in related businesses, perhaps even relying on hunches, often found themselves in a guessing game. Today's agronomy services takes the guesswork out of a lot of choices that are made everyday on the farm.

"Bigger yields. That's what it's all about," said Peterson. "For two dollars an acre, we make three visits during the growing season."

Peterson said an example of what modern-day agronomists do is insect and disease monitoring. If necessary, says Peterson, "we basically write a prescription just like a doctor and prescribe what they need as an insecticide."

While return on dollars invested in agronomy are sometimes difficult to determine due to the many complexities in growing good crops today, Peterson maintains that agronomy services generally result in a three to four times return on dollars spent.

"An example is herbicide or pesticide recommended that is maybe less costly than a farmer was going to apply," said Peterson.

Vision Agronomy has offices in Berthold, Parshall, Ross and Williston and employs about 10 full-time consultants. In 2016, they scouted about 160,000 acres of cropland. Peterson says this year could be a good one for growers, especially at the outset due to good soil moisture conditions.

"I am way more optimistic than I was with 12 feet of snow in the tree rows," said Peterson. "By the 17th of April, there will be a few guys rolling, I think. I'm not concerned about dry conditions in our trade area."