Beyond the Farm: Ag Careers in Science and Technology

When we think about jobs in agriculture, images of farmers harvesting crops or feeding livestock are more likely to come to mind than images of technicians in lab coats. However, there are plenty of off-the-farm career opportunities available for ag-minded students in science and technology.

Graduates with degrees in agriculture and food science can pursue careers as animal, food, soil or plant scientists — all fields that are growing in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for agriculture and food science majors are expected to grow 16 percent between 2008 and 2018.

“A lot of the agriculture and horticulture industries are finding it difficult to find people to employ for the jobs they need done,” said Nancy Taylor, program director for The Ohio State University’s C. Wayne Ellett Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic in a recent Our Ohio article. “And I think there are a lot of opportunities in the industry, government and in research.”

To raise awareness about career opportunities in agriculture science and technology among Ohio students, State Sen. Chris Widener is trying to establish a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academy in Springfield — a worthy endeavor considering that one in seven jobs in Ohio are related to agriculture and food.

“Kids and parents struggle with agriculture as a term, and if they are not familiar with it they believe it’s a dead-end job,” said Widener on the Town Hall Ohio radio program.

So what do agricultural and food scientists do? According to the BLS, agricultural and food scientists can work in the private sector for food-production companies, farms, processing plants and even for pharmaceutical or energy companies. Agricultural and food scientists are also employed by universities and colleges and by the government.

Here are job descriptions for typical agriculture and food scientists courtesy of the BLS:

Animal Scientists: With a focus on food production, animal scientists explore farm animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, growth and development. They work to develop efficient ways to produce and process meat, poultry, eggs and milk. They also advise farmers about how to upgrade housing for animals, lower animal death rates, handle waste matter and increase production.

Food Scientists and Technologists: Through the use of chemistry and other sciences, food scientists and technologists study the underlying principles of food. They analyze nutritional content, discover new food sources and research ways to make processed foods safe and healthy. Food technologists generally work in product development, applying findings from food-science research to develop new or better ways of selecting, preserving, packaging and distributing food. Other food scientists enforce government regulations, inspecting food-processing areas to ensure that they are sanitary and meet waste-management standards.

Soil Scientists: Soil scientists examine the scientific composition of soil as it relates to plant or crop growth and investigate the effects of alternative soil treatment practices on crop productivity. They develop methods of conserving and managing soil that can benefit farmers and forestry companies.

Plant Scientists: Plant scientists work to improve crop yields and provide advice to food and crop developers about techniques that could enhance production efforts. They develop ways to control pests and weeds safely and effectively.

What are your thoughts about careers in agriculture and food science? Would you encourage young students to pursue these majors in college?

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