Agricultural Scientist: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become an agricultural scientist. Learn about job duties, employment outlook, salary and education requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Landscape Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Agricultural Scientist?

Agricultural scientists work to develop and maintain the safety and quality of food products. They may specialize in an area such as livestock, plants or soil. Typically, these professionals are responsible for conducting research and developing experiments related to the productivity or sustainability of crops and livestock. This may include studying the soil and how it affects the growth of crops, and traveling to various facilities to manage projects and new developments.

Agricultural scientists must be able to communicate their research and findings to their clients, the public and other scientists. They often work without supervision, but most likely oversee technicians or students assisting them. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field:

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum; graduate degree needed for some research or teaching positions
Education Field of Study Agricultural science
Key Responsibilities Lab and/or field research on animals, plants or soil
Licensure/Certification Some states require licensing; voluntary certifications available
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 5% for all agricultural and food scientists*
Average Salary (2015) $72,030 for all food scientists and technologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Job Duties as an Agricultural Scientist?

Agricultural scientists may research new techniques in agricultural production that can benefit the environment, like using crops to develop biofuels or finding environmentally friendly ways to control pests. Your expertise may also play a part in helping food production facilities conserve energy, labor costs, soil and water.

Agricultural science is a broad field, so you can specialize in a variety of areas, such as soil, plants or livestock. Many scientists in your field work in basic or applied research. Those working in basic research look at the underlying biological and chemical factors behind plant and animal growth, while those performing applied research improve factors associated with the finished food product. With an increasing public awareness of healthy eating, you may also work on improving the nutritional benefits of existing food products or creating new ones.

What Is My Career Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the agricultural and food scientist job market to grow by 5% through the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). This growth will be due in part to ongoing research and development agricultural production techniques. Population growth and climate change could also spur demand for agricultural research. Depending on your research interests or specialty, you may work in laboratories, offices, government or university research stations, farms or animal facilities. The BLS also reports that as of May 2015, food scientists and technologists earned an average salary of $72,030 per year.

What Are My Education Requirements?

You may complete a bachelor's degree program in agricultural science to be eligible for many positions in your field. As a student in one of these programs, you may take coursework in production agriculture, animal science, chemistry, statistics, agricultural economics, nutrition and horticulture. Many institutions with an agricultural science department also offer a flexible curriculum if you wish to focus on a specific area of study. You typically need a graduate-level degree in agricultural science to be eligible for teaching positions at universities or for advanced research positions.

You may also pursue multiple certifications through the American Society of Agronomy or Soil Science Society of America to help your chances of career advancement. Certifications from both organizations require a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and professional work experience. Upon meeting these qualifications, you can pass an examination in your designated area and complete continuing education requirements to maintain your certification (www.agronomy.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other related careers include conservation scientists and foresters, as well as environmental scientists and specialists. All of these positions require a bachelor's degree, and often work outdoors with natural resources. Conservation scientists and foresters manage the quality of forests, parks and other natural spaces, while environmental scientists and specialists focus on protecting the environment and human health. Another related career track, but one that requires a doctorate or professional degree, is biochemist/biophysicist. These professionals look at the chemical and physical make-up of living things.

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