What Is an Agricultural and Food Scientist? Definition and Requirements

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 5, 2021

If you have farming and agricultural knowledge and would like to apply it toward a career, consider a role as an agricultural and food scientist. These professionals research ways to improve farmers' methods of caring for crops and animals and preparing them for production. There are certain requirements needed to be successful in this position. In this article, we review what an agricultural and food scientist is, the responsibilities they hold, where they work and how much they typically earn.

What is an agricultural and food scientist?

An agricultural and food scientist studies, analyzes and researches the commercial farming of animals and plants. This helps them develop techniques for enhancing the sustainability, quality and productivity of different farms and ranches. Some serve in basic research roles, as they work to understand the various chemical and biological processes involved in making livestock and crops grow.

Others work in applied research, using the knowledge they've gained to find new ways to improve the quantity, quality, safety and wellbeing of crops, livestock and other agricultural products. There are also agricultural and food scientists who run and oversee various research and development programs. They may also work at food production companies to ensure they produce supplies, food, machinery or other agricultural products safely and efficiently.

Related: How To Become a Food Scientist in 3 Steps

What does an agricultural and food scientist do?

The specific job duties an agricultural and food scientist holds can typically depend on the specialty they decide to pursue. When they work with animals, they may breed them for consumption and find ways to do this in a humane, safe and functional way. They may develop vaccines or cures for common diseases found in farm animals, like chickens, pigs, cows or turkeys. Those who work with crops may study soil and weather conditions to find ways to improve plant quality and the crop yield.

Other common job responsibilities agricultural and food scientists may hold can include:

  • Collecting soil and chemical properties for testing and experiments

  • Using a wide range of meteorology, soil science and crop physiology knowledge to develop practices and policies for caring for crops

  • Mapping soil and breeding plants

  • Performing research and experiments to improve the quality of farm animals and field crops

  • Creating innovative and ethically sourced food products

  • Developing more effective and efficient ways to package, deliver and process various food products

  • Providing advice to farmers regarding solutions to lower animal death rates, enhance production levels and handle different forms of waste matter

Related: 12 Careers in Agriculture To Explore

Agricultural and food scientist work environment

An agricultural and food scientist spends most of their time either conducting experiments in a laboratory or inputting results and documenting them on their computers in the office. They may also conduct field work at farms, ranches or food processing plants. When they spend time in the field, they must carefully follow certain safety procedures to ensure they don't harm themselves or the plants or crops that they're collecting or caring for.

Most agricultural and food scientists may travel to farms or ranches during harsh or unexpected weather and may need to complete various tasks with the distractions of machinery taking place in the background. When they're in the office, they typically analyze data gathered, then input this information into detailed reports with the company's advanced computer software systems and platforms.

Agricultural and food scientist salary

The median pay of an agricultural and food scientist is around $65,160 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can typically earn a higher wage if you advance your education or earn additional impressive certifications. Other factors that could affect your salary can be the size, type and location of the organization you choose to work for.

Agricultural and food scientist job outlook

The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that the demand for agricultural and food scientists should grow by 6% over the next decade, which is typically quicker than the average for all other occupations. As more scientists conduct research and make additional discoveries about agricultural product methods, organizations may hire additional agricultural and food scientists to implement these effective production techniques.

Agricultural and food scientist job requirements

You must hold certain experience, education and skill sets to excel as a successful agricultural and food scientist. Common job requirements for agricultural and food scientists to hold include:

Education requirements

Most employers require agricultural and food scientists to obtain at least a bachelor's degree to apply for entry-level roles. This degree can be in chemistry, biology, science or other related fields. Most graduates advance their educations and receive a master's or doctorate degree in relevant fields of study as well. During both your undergraduate and graduate programs, you should spend a significant amount of time in the laboratory to gain plenty of experience working in a lab since all agricultural and food scientist employees spend a majority of their time conducting experiments and running tests on samples.

Related: Q&A: What Can I Do With a Food Science Degree?

Licensing requirements

Depending on the state you work in, it may require you to earn a soil scientist license. The requirements for this license typically vary by state, so conduct research to determine what yours entails. Most require candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in a related field and work under the direct supervision of a licensed scientist for certain numbers of years. Afterward, you must pass an exam quizzing you over what you learned in your courses and through hands-on experience.

Related: Animal Science Careers: What You Can Do With Your Degree

Skills

Most agricultural and food scientists should have extensive research experience, as they must regularly collect samples on site for experiments. This also means they should know how to use laboratory equipment and understand how a laboratory environment functions. A background in working on a farm or ranch can also be beneficial to better understand effective techniques for caring for common farm animals and growing crops.

Other skills and expertise agricultural and food scientists should have include:

  • Critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities

  • Analytical and data-driven

  • Verbal and written communication skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Decision-making skills

  • Mathematical, statistical and scientific knowledge

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