Conduct research in breeding, physiology, production, yield, and management of crops and agricultural plants, their growth in soils, and control of pests; or study the chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition of soils as they relate to plant or crop growth. May classify and map soils and investigate effects of alternative practices on soil and crop productivity.
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Job growth among agricultural and food scientists should be faster than the average for all occupations. Opportunities are expected to be good over the next decade, particularly in food science and technology and in agronomy.
Employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will stem primarily from efforts to increase the quantity and quality of food produced for a growing population. Additionally, an increasing awareness about the health effects of certain types of foods and the effects of food production on the environment, will give rise to research into the best methods of food production.
Emerging biotechnologies will continue to play a large role in agricultural research, and applying these advances will provide many employment opportunities for scientists. For example, they may use findings from genomics to create agricultural products with higher yields and resistance to pests and pathogens. New developments will also be used to improve the quality and safety of prepared food products bought by consumers.
Agricultural scientists will also be needed to balance increased agricultural output with protection and preservation of soil, water, and ecosystems. They increasingly will help develop sustainable agricultural practices by creating and implementing plans to manage pests, crops, soil fertility and erosion, and animal waste in ways that reduce the use of harmful chemicals and minimize damage to the natural environment. In addition, demand for biofuels—renewable energy sources derived from plants—is expected to increase. Agricultural scientists will be needed both to find new techniques for converting organic material into usable energy sources and to find ways to increase the output of crops used in these products.
Job growth for food scientists and technologists will be driven by the demand for new food products and food safety measures. Food research is expected to increase because of heightened public awareness of diet, health, food safety, and biosecurity—preventing the introduction of infectious agents into herds of animals. Advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology should also spur demand, as food scientists and technologists apply these technologies to testing and monitoring food safety.
Opportunities should be good for agricultural and food scientists in almost all fields. Those with a bachelor's degree should experience very good opportunities in food science and technology and in agronomy. Those with a master's or Ph.D. degree in agricultural and food science will also experience good opportunities, although positions in basic research and teaching at colleges and universities are limited.
Many people with bachelor's degrees in agricultural sciences also find work in positions related to agricultural or food science, rather than in jobs as agricultural or food scientists. A bachelor's degree in agricultural science is useful for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses, such as farm credit institutions or companies that manufacture or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, and farm equipment. In some cases, people with a bachelor's degree can provide consulting services or work in sales and marketing—promoting high-demand products such as organic foods. Bachelor's degrees in agricultural science also may help people become farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers; agricultural inspectors; or purchasing agents for agricultural commodity or farm supply companies.
Employment of agricultural and food scientists is relatively stable during periods of economic recession. Layoffs are less likely among agricultural and food scientists than in some other occupations, because food is a staple item and its demand fluctuates very little with economic activity.
Agricultural and food scientists held about 31,000 jobs in 2008. Soil and plant scientists accounted for 13,900, food scientists and technologist for 13,400, while the remaining 3,700 were animal scientists. In addition, many people trained in these sciences held faculty positions in colleges and universities.
About 20 percent worked for manufacturing companies, mainly in food and pharmaceutical manufacturing, and another 15 percent worked in educational institutions. The Federal Government employed about 7 percent, mostly in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other agricultural and food scientists worked for research and development laboratories and wholesale distributors. About 12 percent of agricultural scientists were self-employed in 2008, mainly as consultants.
Job Zone 5 - Extensive preparation
Extensive skill, knowledge, and experience are needed for these occupations. Many require more than five years of experience. For example, surgeons must complete four years of medical school and up to an additional five to seven years of specialized medical training to do their job.
At a minimum, a bachelor's degree is required for these occupations. However, many also require a graduate school degree such as a Master's, Ph.D., M.D., or J.D. (law degree).
Employees may need some on-the-job training, but most of these occupations require that you already have the necessary skills, knowledge, work-related experience, and/or training.
Lawyers, instrumental musicians, physicists, counseling psychologists, and surgeons.
These occupations often involve coordinating, training, supervising or managing the activities of others. Very advanced communication and organization skills are required.
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Information on careers in agricultural science is available from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture at: http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/USDA/careers
Information on careers in food science and technology is available from:
- Institute of Food Technologists, 525 W. Van Buren, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60607. Internet: http://www.ift.org
Information on careers in plant and soil sciences is available from:
- American Society of Agronomy, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711-1086. Internet: http://www.agronomy.org
- Crop Science Society of America, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711-1086. Internet: http://www.crops.org
- Soil Science Society of America, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711-1086. Internet: http://www.soils.org
Information on getting a job as an agricultural scientist with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not toll free, so charges may result.
Sources: O*Net data version 12.0
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Department of Labor
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