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What does an agricultural food scientist do?

How can farms use less labor? Control pests and weeds? Conserve soil and water? Do all of the above, yet still grow more food? Agricultural and food scientists look for the answers to these kinds of questions. They solve problems in agriculture and food production. Agricultural and food scientists study farm crops and animals. They use the principles of biology, chemistry, and other sciences. They find new ways of making crops into food.

Food scientists and technologists work in the food processing industry. Some work in universities and some work in government. They try to create food products that are healthful, safe, tasty, and easy to use. They find better ways to preserve, process, package, store, and deliver foods. Some food scientists discover new foods. Others analyze foods to see how much fat, sugar, or protein is in them. Others search for better food additives.

Plant scientists study plants. They specialize in agronomy, which is a branch of science that deals with the production of field crops. Some work in plant breeding. Others work in entomology (the study of insects). Agronomists and crop scientists help farmers grow more food. They look for ways to improve the nutrition in foods. They also work on making better seeds.

Soil scientists study what is in soils. They study how soils help plants grow. They see how things like fertilizer can improve soils. Many soil scientists conduct soil surveys. They classify and map soils. Some provide information and advice to farmers. They help farmers make the best use of their land.

Animal scientists work to develop better ways of making meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Some animal scientists inspect and grade food products. Animal scientists also work as extension agents or consultants. They advise farmers and ranchers on how to best raise livestock.

Some agricultural scientists work regular hours in offices. Some work in labs. Food scientists may work in test kitchens. Animal scientists may spend part of their time outdoors. Soil and crop scientists also spend time outdoors. They might do work at farms or agricultural research stations. Entomologists work in laboratories. They also may spend time studying bugs outdoors.

How do you get ready to be an agricultural food scientist?

A bachelor's degree in agricultural science is all that is needed for some jobs. But a master's or doctoral degree is required to do basic research. A Ph.D. in agricultural science is needed for college teaching.

All States have a land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Many other colleges and universities also offer agricultural science degrees or some agricultural science courses.

Students who want to work as animal scientists might study animal breeding, reproductive physiology, nutrition and meats, and muscle biology in college.

Students preparing for food-scientist careers should take college courses in food chemistry, food analysis, and food microbiology. Studying food engineering and food processing operations is also useful.

Those studying to be crop or soil scientists might take courses in plant pathology, soil chemistry, and entomology. Plant physiology and biochemistry, among others, are also of value.

Most agricultural and food scientists also need a basic understanding of business. Being able to use basic statistical techniques is also a plus. More employers want to hire workers with computer skills.

How much does this job pay?

The middle 50 percent of agricultural and food scientists earned between $35,770 and $65,990 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $28,750. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $85,460.

How many jobs are there?

Agricultural and food scientists held about 18,000 jobs in 2002. Also, several thousand persons taught agricultural science in colleges and universities.

Almost 4 in 10 agricultural and food scientists worked for the government. Some worked for agricultural service companies. Others worked for commercial laboratories, seed companies, and pharmaceutical companies. Some worked for wholesalers and food products companies.

What about the future?

The number of people employed as agricultural and food scientists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012. This is because there won't be much growth in government, where many of these workers are employed.

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is fairly stable during difficult economic times. Compared with other occupations, layoffs are less likely among agricultural and food scientists. This is true because food is a necessary item. The demand for food changes very little with economic activity. People buy roughly the same amount of food in good times and bad.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Agricultural managers
  • Biological scientists
  • Chemists
  • Conservation scientists and foresters
  • Farmers
  • Ranchers
Where can you find more information?

More information about agricultural and food scientists can be found in the Careers Database.

See Also Food Science Programs and Colleges and Universities

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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