Jobs Outlook: Agricultural and Food Scientists

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012. This projection reflects limited growth in the Federal Government and modest growth in State and local governments. The need to replace agricultural and food scientists who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently will account for many more job openings than will projected growth.

Past agricultural research has resulted in the development of higher yielding crops, crops with better resistance to pests and plant pathogens, and chemically based fertilizers and pesticides. Research is still necessary, particularly as insects and diseases continue to adapt to pesticides and as soil fertility and water quality continue to need improvement, resulting in job opportunities in biotechnology. Agricultural scientists are using new avenues of research in biotechnology to develop plants and food crops that require less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and herbicides, and even less water for growth.

Biotechnological research, including studies and approaches relying on the tools of genomics, will continue to offer possibilities for the development of new food products. This research will allow agricultural and food scientists to develop techniques to detect and control food pathogens, and should lead to better understanding of other physiological responses of pathogens in food environments.

Agricultural scientists will be needed to balance increased agricultural output with protection and preservation of soil, water, and ecosystems. They will increasingly encourage the practice of ďsustainable agricultureĒ by developing and implementing plans to manage pests, crops, soil fertility and erosion, and animal waste in ways that reduce the use of harmful chemicals and do little damage to the natural environment.

Further food research will result in more job opportunities for food scientists and technologists. This research will be stimulated by a heightened public focus on diet, health, and food safety, as well as domestic and global issues such as increasing world population, availability and cost of usable water, loss of arable land, deforestation, environmental pollution, and climate change.

Those with doctorates in agricultural and food science may face competition for jobs, due to an increase in the number of graduates and the limited numbers of research and teaching positions. Opportunities may be more numerous for those with a masterís degree, particularly for graduates seeking basic research positions in a laboratory. Most of these positions, however, entail working under the guidance and direction of a Ph.D. scientist.

Graduates with a bachelorís degree should have opportunities, although not necessarily as an agricultural or food scientist. A bachelorís degree in agricultural science is useful for managerial jobs in businesses that deal with ranchers and farmers, such as feed, fertilizer, seed, and farm equipment manufacturers; retailers or wholesalers; and farm credit institutions. In some cases, persons with a 4-year degree can provide consulting services, or become a certified crop advisor, providing crop management recommendations to farmers to help them meet their objectives. Bachelorís degree holders also can work in some applied research and product development positions, but usually only in certain subfields, such as food science and technology, and the Federal Government hires bachelorís degree holders to work as soil scientists. Four-year degrees also may help persons enter occupations such as farmer, or farm or ranch manager; cooperative extension service agent; agricultural products inspector; or purchasing or sales agent 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.