Each day of agronomy brings new challenges and issues. Working with animals, plants and soil, all combined with weather, makes a constantly changing environment. Any person involved in crop protection is facing these changing situations. New agronomists need to develop expertise in crop protection and it is not always easy. Each crop season represents a long cycle. There is no shortcut to building expertise – it takes time to face different situations. To help develop expertise among consultants in Québec, la Coordination des Services Conseils has put in place a team of mentors to guide agronomists willing to improve their knowledge.
Growers can be supported in their crop protection activities by various agronomists. Developing experience in crop protection can sometimes be puzzling. To help consultants develop their competencies in crop protection, a service of mentoring was established in 2017. Someone who needs to be accompanied is matched with a mentor. This is creating a sustainable relationship helping to build knowledge and competencies of the mentee. The service tracks the progress of each supported agronomist. The mentors have been identified for their competencies, knowledge and experience.
On my side, I am mentoring people interested in improving their competencies in crop protection. When starting with a new mentee, the first step is to identify what are his/her needs. Is it building knowledge about pests or pesticides? Is it developing skills about integrated pest management? Is it getting more confidence about dispensing advice about crop protection? Often, people are worried about their abilities. Simply having the possibility of talking and exchanging with someone else helps a lot. In the mentoring, it is important to identify with the mentee what are the tools easily available and how to use them. If nothing is available, I need to help develop what would be helpful as reminder. A calendar of scouting is a good example.
Finally, sometimes everything is in place, but the mentee still needs to develop how to interact with growers. For example, how can I convince the grower that this the best solution while he/she is convinced of something else?
In mentoring, my approach is different than an expert. I have to support the agronomist to develop his/her own expertise and a way to guide growers. At the end of the day, the objective is to achieve a maximum of autonomy for the mentee. If I act as an expert, I will simply answer the questions of the mentee and, that way, take away from the objective of developing the expertise. Sometimes mentees are agronomists who are evolving in their knowledge of a new crop. In this way, it is important to work on knowledge and competencies.
Ninety-eight people are currently using the service of a mentor in four aspects of agronomy. Irrigation, fruits and vegetables, beef cattle and crop protection are the specialties covered by mentoring. Today twenty-one mentors are supporting these people across Québec.
Crop protection, with 44 mentees, was first started in 2017, followed by beef cattle in 2019. All others, started for the 2022 season.
Mentoring, at the start, is a relationship between mentor-mentee, but some group activities are held during the year. In the high season of crop protection, there is a weekly meeting when mentors and mentees are connected by web or phone. This is an important opportunity for mentors to exchange observations and findings on different topics. Sometimes, resource people are invited to join the weekly meeting and to bring specific information.
To reach people more rapidly and help to build better interaction, a private Facebook group is fed by mentors and mentees. Pictures, files and links are exchanged and this is a no-brainer that works.
To ensure quality of the mentoring, mentors are followed by a coach and receive annual training to help them perform well. This allows mentees to continue the relationship for numerous years, if needed.
Finally, the service of mentoring is definitively a hit. In fact, since 2017, 2470 hours of mentoring have been done for 3088 interventions with 100 mentees. On average, a mentee receives three days a year of service. Surveys show a satisfaction of 100% from mentees demonstrating that the service really responds to their needs. The mentoring program is financed by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec supported by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership in the Québec-Cananda Agreement.
Source: Michel Dupuis, Coordination services-conseils