How to Become an Agricultural Scientist in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for agricultural scientists. Get the facts about job duties, educational requirements, certification and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.
What Does an Agricultural Scientist Do?
Agricultural scientists develop methods for improving the quality, quantity and safety of farm crops and livestock. They may focus on animals, soil, plants or food, usually working in a lab or in the field. They perform experiments to measure productivity and sustainability, and develop strategies to better process our food supply. They work independently and sometimes lead technician teams. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's degree; master's or PhD for advanced positions|
|Education Field of Study||Bachelor's: agricultural science, biochemistry|
Master's: agricultural science
PhD: plant physiology, soil science, agricultural economics
|Key Skills||Laboratory & field research; data analysis; knowledge of biosecurity measures|
|Licensure/Certification Required||Some states require licensing, specifics vary by state; optional certifications available|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||7% (for all agricultural and food scientists)*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$64,020 (for all agricultural and food scientists)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
What Is an Agricultural Scientist?
Agricultural scientists conduct research in laboratories and/or in the field to help improve agricultural practices. For example, they may develop new food products or safer food delivery systems, find ways to improve soil, or research animal genetics, diseases and nutrition. Agricultural scientists may work in private industry or perform research for universities or the government. Some common job titles include animal scientist, food scientist and plant scientist.
Step 1: Research the Career Duties and Educational Requirements for Agricultural Scientists
As an agricultural scientist, you utilize principles in disciplines like biology and chemistry to solve agricultural problems involving crops, insects, soils and the production of meat and dairy products. You may also perform testing to ensure that foods are safe and meet government and industry standards.
You could also work as an agronomist specializing in crop improvement. Some of your job duties in this role involve conducting studies to predict crop yields and engineering the genetic structure of seeds to protect crops from pests.
Earning at least a bachelor's degree in agricultural science or a related field is usually required for jobs in the private sector, according to the BLS. For jobs involving agricultural research, a master's or doctoral degree is generally required.
Step 2: Take Advanced Science Courses in High School
According to College Board, you can prepare for a career in agricultural science by taking advanced science courses in biology, chemistry or physics, as well as courses in family and consumer sciences, while still in high school (www.collegeboard.com). You can also gain hands-on experience by participating in summer internships at a farm or food-processing plant.
Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Relevant bachelor's degree programs for this career field include agricultural science and agricultural biochemistry. With a degree in agricultural science, you may focus on areas such as animal and nutritional sciences. A biochemistry degree program usually offers courses like genetics, physics and mathematics, which can prepare you to work as an agricultural scientist.
Step 4: Obtain an Advanced Degree
If your career goals involve performing research or teaching agricultural studies, you need to have a master's degree or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), according to the BLS. Research and teaching positions are generally available at colleges and universities.
Professionals in this field often earn a Master of Science in Agricultural Science. Doctoral degree programs are available in areas of study such as plant physiology, soil science and agricultural and resource economics.
Step 5: Consider Certification
You may choose to become certified to demonstrate to employers and the public your commitment to the profession. The American Society of Agronomy offers credentials as a Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) and Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg).
Obtaining the CCA credential requires passing two comprehensive exams in addition to having two years of experience with a related bachelor's degree or four years of experience with no degree. To receive the CPAg credential, you must first pass the CCA exam and have at least a bachelor's degree in a related field with five years of experience.
If your career focus is in soil science, you may obtain the Certified Professional Soil Scientist/Classifier credential offered by the Soil Society of America. To be eligible for this designation, you must pass two exams and have at least a bachelor's degree in soil science with five years of experience.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Closely related careers include biological technicians and conservation scientists/foresters. Biological technicians serve as research assistants to medical and biological scientists. Conservation scientists and foresters focus on maintaining the quality of land and natural resources.