Careers in Agriculture
Get Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Thinking about a career in agriculture? No? You should be! Consider this: nearly every industry is connected to the field of agriculture. How, you may ask, is automobile manufacturing related to agriculture? Actually, in many ways, but one obvious example is what you sit on in the car. Your seat is probably made from either cloth or leather which are both derivatives of the agricultural industry. You may now be thinking, "Yes, but what about the computer I'm reading this on – the technology industry certainly couldn't be related in anyway to agriculture". Ever heard of soy ink? That's right, more and more manufactures are using environmentally friendly ink derived from soybeans in their printer cartridges. And, of course, the paper on which it is printing is also an important product from the agricultural field. Agriculture is everywhere! That's why you should take some time to investigate the countless exciting career opportunities that the agricultural industry has to offer.
When you think of a career in agriculture, what's the first thing that pops into your head –a picture on an old farmer in overalls riding a tractor out to the fields to plough or perhaps pitchforking hay in front of a big red barn? Well, think again. Today, farming is high tech, big business, and most careers in agriculture are actually either business or science related. Only a small percentage of those employed within the agricultural industry are employed in "traditional" farming occupations. To be specific, out of the 22 million people who directly work within the agricultural industry only 2 million are actively involved in "farming" on a daily basis (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The vast majority work as either food/agricultural scientists or in business related careers, such as marketing and merchandising.
A career in the science side of agriculture may be for you if you enjoy doing experiments and analyzing the results. Agricultural scientists study farm crops and animals, in an effort to improve both production methods and food quality. In their research, agricultural scientists draw from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. In recent years, technology has had an enormous impact on the field. Advances in biotechnology have allowed agricultural scientists to manipulate the genetic make-up of plants and animals, which has created research opportunities in many areas of the agricultural and food sciences.
You will find 4 broad areas of specialization within agricultural science: Food Science, Plant Science, Soil Science and Animal Science. Many food scientists work on developing new and improved ways of preserving, processing, packaging, storing, and delivering food to consumers according to industry and governmental standards and regulations. Others conduct basic research designed to discover new food sources; analyze food content to determine levels of vitamins, fat, sugar, or protein; or search for substitutes for harmful or undesirable additives and preservatives. The information gathered by food science research is then used by food technologists for product development and enhancement.
The second area of specialization is plant science. Plant scientists work in the fields of agronomy (the scientific management of soil and the production of crops), environmental science, plant breeding, and entomology (the study of insects). Some plant scientists conduct research that is used by the food, feed, and fiber industries to increase productivity and yield, while simultaneously maintaining the environment and conserving our natural resources, while others use biotechnology to study ways of improving the nutritional value of crops and the quality of seeds used to grow them. Entomologists are special kinds of plant scientists who examine insects and their relationship to plants. They conduct research to develop new and improved methods and technologies to control or eliminate pests. Some entomologists also study and implement interventions that lower or eliminate the spread of insect-borne disease.
Closely related to plant science is the field of soil science. Soil scientists are concerned with how the composition of soil impacts plant growth, and how various types of soils respond to things such as fertilizers, tillage practices, and crop rotation. Farmers then use this information to maximize land usage and promote plant growth. Since soil science and environmental science are interrelated, soil scientists often work in ecology-related jobs to ensure environmental quality and effective land use. They are also employed in the construction industry, where they work with architects, construction companies, and landscape designers to address soil related problems such as drainage and erosion.
Animal Science is the final specialty area to investigate if you are interested in careers on the science side of agriculture. Animal scientists conduct research designed to improve the production and processing of meats, fish and dairy products. They use biotechnology to study the genetics, nutrition, reproduction, growth, and development of domesticated farm animals. Some animal scientists inspect and grade livestock food products, purchase livestock, or work in technical sales or marketing. As extension agents or consultants, animal scientists advise agricultural producers on how to upgrade animal housing facilities properly, lower mortality rates among their animals, handle waste matter properly, or increase the production of animal products, such as milk or eggs.
Don't get the impression, however, that the agricultural industry is all about scientific research. It has become high-tech science to be sure, but there are careers in the agriculture industry that relate to just about any college major you could take. Nearly half of all those employed in the industry are in business related careers. Agribusiness is big, no, actually, HUGE business. People with a business background are needed and employed as: marketing and merchandising specialists; sales representatives; agricultural economists; accountants; finance managers, and; commodity traders, just to name a few. And that's still not all. Other career possibilities exist in the areas of communications & education, social services, and agricultural production. And, even though food production often takes center stage, don't forget, as we mentioned earlier, that textiles and fibers also makeup a large portion of the agricultural industry.
As you can see, an exciting world of opportunity awaits you in the agriculture industry. According to the most recent projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook through 2012 for all these types of agriculture related positions is very favorable. So, do yourself a favor, as you are thinking about your college major and future career, don't forget to consider the field of agriculture, because it is truly a "field of plenty".