The study of agriculture can lead to a variety of careers, including those associated with consulting, farming, management and research. Read on to learn more about degree programs and useful courses for agricultural scientists or workers, as well as how much you might earn in the 'field.'
Agricultural studies is a broad field that covers the production, distribution, management and research of agricultural goods. A bachelor's degree program in agricultural studies can help you qualify for a position as an agricultural scientist or operations inspector, animal breeder, farm manager or food technologist. Advanced degree programs can also open the door to a career in research and development or academia, as well as higher-level opportunities in the public sector or private sector, such as a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture or a manufacturing company. Career options for non-graduates who have received on-the-job training might be found with farms, ranches, greenhouses and nurseries.
Agricultural specialists and workers may be involved in the day-to-day operations of the farming industry. For example, they might grow crops, breed animals, manage farms and negotiate business transactions. Those employed in administrative and scientific positions need an understanding of business and science; aspiring agricultural workers can benefit practical farming skills.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of agricultural workers, including animal breeders and farmworkers, was projected to decrease nationwide between 2012 and 2022. By comparison, an average growth in jobs (9%) was expected for agricultural and food scientists during the same period. As of May 2013, the median annual wage for farmworkers and laborers was $18,710, while animal breeders and animal scientists earned $37,950 and $60,180 respectively. The median annual salary for soil and plant scientists was $58,990 in 2013; food scientists and technologists earned $59,630 (www.bls.gov).
In a bachelor's degree program in agricultural science, you'll learn how to improve crop yields and ensure the safety of consumer foods. You'll become familiar with all aspects of the agribusiness, including food production, distribution methods and management strategies. Although programs can be flexible, you'll most likely take classes in plant and animal science, economics, environmental science and sustainable agriculture, or learn how to use geographic information systems (GIS). Specialized coursework in agricultural technology, biofuel production and resource conservation might also be part of the curriculum. Areas of concentration may include agricultural biology, agricultural economics or permaculture.
Master's degree programs in agriculture usually require an additional two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree level, while a doctorate may be completed in 3-4 years. Graduate programs can lead to a master's degree in animal science and a doctorate in agricultural science. Certificate and minor programs of study within agricultural departments may also be available to you.
Voluntary certifications can be obtained through the American Society of Agronomy and include the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) and the Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) credential. In addition, the Soil Science Society of America offers the Certified Professional Soil Scientist certification. Depending on your state, you may need a professional license to work as a soil scientist.