Soil science is the study of all aspects of soils, including their classification, composition, structural properties and roles in agriculture. Read on to learn more about soil science jobs, employment prospects and salary potential for this field.
Soil science is the study of the physical, biological and chemical properties of soils. To be a soil scientist, you need a thorough understanding of soil formation, distribution and structure, as well as plant growth and hydrology. Soil scientists study the impacts of fertilizers, crop rotations and other agricultural practices on different types of soils. You could work in the field classifying and mapping soils while recommending ways to minimize erosion and other soil-related problems. You could also spend much of your time in laboratories conducting research to improve agricultural production. Soil scientists need a strong background in biology, chemistry and mathematics, as well as solid computer skills.
Graduates often find jobs with manufacturing companies, academic research institutions and federal government agencies, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You could work in the areas of environmental conservation, land use planning or soil mapping. Soil scientists' job titles can include soil conservationist, land use specialist, environmental or agricultural consultant, farm manager and natural resources manager.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for agricultural and food scientists, which includes soil scientists, were expected to increase by 9% over the 2012-2022 period (www.bls.gov). Job growth could be partially driven by the need to increase agricultural production while preserving soil and water resources, the BLS reported. As of May 2013, the median annual wages of soil and plant scientists were $58,990, with the top ten percent earning almost $95,970, per the BLS.
A bachelor's degree in soil science or a closely related field, like agricultural science or agronomy, can qualify graduates for many jobs in industry, government and business. If you're interested in pursuing a research position, you probably need to obtain a master's or doctoral degree in the field. Teaching at the college level generally requires a doctoral degree in soil science or a closely related field.
Soil science at the undergraduate level is commonly offered as a concentration within natural resources, environmental sciences or agricultural sciences degree programs. Soil science degree programs can provide you with the scientific knowledge and basic training needed to enter the field. Curriculum typically includes biology, chemistry, ecology and geology, as well as major courses in soil classification, horticulture and soil fertility. Students may also develop specializations, such as soil genesis, ecology, microbiology, watershed analysis or soil conservation.
If you pursue a graduate degree, such as a Master of Soil Science or Master of Crop and Soil Science, you can gain the practical training needed for advanced soil scientist careers. Alternatively, you could choose a Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy in Soil Science, which involves the completion of a thesis or dissertation to prepare for research-based careers. Graduate curriculum includes advanced instruction in soil physics, soil microbiology, irrigation principles, remote sensing, soil analysis and modeling.
In addition to your degree, you may need to become licensed as a soil scientist in your state to practice, according to the BLS. Not all states license soil scientists, however, so be sure to check your state's requirements. Soil scientists can further enhance their qualifications by earning certification from a professional organization, which can enhance your job prospects, reported the BLS. The Soil Science Society of America offers certification for soil scientists and soil classifiers, which requires obtaining some combination of education and work experience and passing examinations (www.soils.org).