Agriculture scientists study ways to improve the safety and productivity of crops. As such, they are important to maintaining and increasing the world’s food supply. Some agricultural scientists research the biological and chemical processes by which crops and livestock grow. Others study ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products. An agricultural scientist may specialize in a particular type of food, plant, animal, or environment.
An agricultural scientist may work for a private farm, company, or processing plant, a university, or the government. Most agricultural scientists spend a majority of their time in an office or a laboratory where they conduct tests and experiments. They may also visit farms or processing plants to take samples or assess overall conditions. Sometimes job duties include writing grants for research projects or communicating findings with other organizations, policy-makers or the public through written reports or oral presentations.
An agriculture scientist must be good at working independently but also needs to be able to communicate well with others. They must also possess strong critical thinking, data analysis, math and observational skills. When conducting fieldwork, an agricultural scientist must be able to tolerate different conditions associated with food production processes including large production machinery, cold temperatures or close proximity to animal byproducts.
Agricultural scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree although many achieve advanced degrees. Undergraduate coursework typically includes general courses such as biology, chemistry, and botany as well as more specialized courses such as soil chemistry, plant physiology, biochemistry, food chemistry, food microbiology, and food engineering. Internships are a good way for a student to get experience in the field. Although certifications are generally not required for agriculture scientists, they can help advance one’s career. Agricultural and food scientists can get certifications from organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), or the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others.
The median annual wage for agricultural scientists was $68,830 in May 2020. Overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.