The term agriculture usually brings out mental images of vast fields of ranch or cropland with an old-fashioned tractor idling by.
However, with the world’s population growing by more than 80 million each year and fueling an ever-increasing demand for food, the field of agriculture has also seen major strides in technology, knowledge, and methods.
For those considering starting or switching to a career in either crop farming, livestock raising, or soil cultivation, here is a roundup of 15 of the most exciting careers in agriculture.
Agricultural and Food Scientist
The drastic consequences of the earth’s growing demand for food—In particular, meat consumption (pegged at 300 million tons yearly)—has not escaped the attention of experts in the agriculture industry, many of whom are currently looking for ways to make food production and processing more efficient.
This is where food science comes in. Using their knowledge of biochemistry, biotechnology, and engineering, food scientists look for new food sources as well as research ways to make food safe, healthy, and tasty.
One way food scientists are improving food production is with the help of cellular agriculture to produce meat (beef, poultry, pork, and seafood), eggs, and dairy from animal cell samples, thereby eliminating the need to raise livestock (which consumes vast land and water resources in addition to producing enormous amounts of GHG).
Aside from meat production, other applications of biotechnology include crop production (which likewise requires vast amounts of land and energy).
While it is still an emerging field, several academic institutions, commercial start-ups, and non-profit organizations have already taken an interest in investing in biotechnology for sustainable food production. One example of these is New Harvest, a non-profit that funds cellular agriculture–related research.
Another highly in-demand field is agriculture engineering, a branch of engineering that is concerned with designing, building, and developing smarter and more efficient farm machineries and implements.
Agricultural engineers help pave the way for the future of agriculture by using technology in order to solve common farming problems and improve crop production. Precision agriculture, for instance, has allowed for the development and use of tractors equipped with software that can help farmers plant seeds in a straight line, at a uniform distance, and at the correct depth.
Another example of technology made with the help of agricultural engineering is data-driven farming done with the use of probes (where sensors are used to measure soil moisture), which has been shown to help farmers reduce water waste by up to 30 percent by giving them more accurate soil moisture data.
Agricultural lawyers are legal specialists in agricultural laws, which include (but are not limited to) land use, agricultural labor laws, and environmental protection.
Agricultural lawyers who work in regulatory bodies in the government are usually charged with helping settle land disputes, providing legal guidance in compliance with land use regulations, and assisting in the implementation of state farm policies. Those who go into private practice specialize in agricultural infrastructure, insurance, and intellectual property.
Aside from having a bachelor’s degree, other prerequisites to becoming an agricultural lawyer include earning a JD (juris doctor) degree and passing the bar exam.
With the steady growth in the demand for food worldwide, the work of agriculture economists come highly regarded. Agricultural economists work alongside farmers and livestock producers to ensure that they are able to produce enough food to keep up with consumer demand. This means the ability to forecast and analyze market trends as well as recommend innovations that will help increase production.
That said, agricultural economists need to possess several skills essential to the job. These include strong research skills, sound decision-making skills, and the ability to multitask. An understanding of market forces, land valuation and appraisal, and the economics of business markets is also necessary.
Bees are said to play a significant role in promoting and maintaining ecological diversity. Additionally, some species, like the honeybee, have a significant contribution to agriculture, with cross-pollination responsible for producing over 70 percent of the world’s crops.
Unfortunately, bee populations have been constantly declining since the 20th century. For this reason, beekeeping has become a timely and important career to get into. While commercial beekeepers usually raise hives for the sale of honey, beeswax, propolis, and other consumer products, others choose to specialize in the care and propagation of bees, including doing research in cross-breeding bee species, in order to address ecological issues related to the population decline of bee species.
As the job title suggests, agricultural managers help farmers handle the “business side” of things—that is, by ensuring that farms (whether small-time or industrial) remain competitive and continue operating at a profit.
The responsibilities of agricultural managers vary widely, but usually include preparing budgets, hiring farm personnel, scheduling crop rotations, and procuring farm equipment.
While agricultural managers are usually hired based on relevant work experience, having a degree in related fields such as farm management, dairy science, and agricultural entrepreneurship or economics are considered an advantage too.
With worldwide demand for cocoa at a consistent upswing, cocoa farming has become a highly lucrative industry.
The growing and selling of cocoa beans is usually done by small farmers, who are responsible for around 90% of global cocoa production. These beans are then sold to cocoa manufacturers to be turned into finished products such as chocolate bars or beans.
Not all areas of the globe are conducive for cocoa farming, however. Cocoa is ideally grown in tropical areas (specifically, in areas located within the 10 degrees latitude of the equator). These include Ecuador, Mexico, the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, and Nigeria.
Those interested to learn more about cocoa farming will be pleased to know that several nonprofit organizations offer free training and support.
Agronomists are deemed crop experts and are considered invaluable in the agriculture industry for their knowledge of the newest and best techniques for optimizing crop quality and output. They are usually employed by large-scale farms, seed companies, fertilizer manufacturers, and food companies, who rely on their expertise in growing the best possible crops.
Agronomists are expected to have advanced knowledge of chemistry, biology, crop science, economics, and genetics.
A large part of a veterinarian’s practice involves helping farmers by ensuring the successful breeding, health, and safe delivery of farm animals. A normal day for a veterinarian in a farm setup would include administering vaccines, inspecting and evaluating as well as treating sick animals. Not unlike doctors, theirs is a 24-hour, on-call job.
As more millennials are turning to farming, newer technological advances are being integrated into agriculture. One such technology that has multiple applications in agriculture is the use of drones and aerial application. From increasing crop yields to reducing crop damage, the use of drones equipped with sensors, robotics, and aerial imagery has proven widely useful in farming. That said, drone technologists (along with precision agriculture technologists) are predicted to be one of the top five careers in agriculture in 2020.
The job title sounds like it’s something straight out of 21st-century agriculture, and it is. Combining their knowledge and skills in computer science and technology, bioinformatics scientists use automated data mining and integration to gather and update information on plant and animal life, specifically in crop and plant genetics, which greatly benefits the agriculture industry.
Also, according to CareerAddict.com, bioinformatics scientists are one of the highest-paid in the agriculture industry, earning an estimated $80,200 annually.
It is an incontrovertible fact that agriculture has an enormous impact on the environment. Worldwide, the agriculture industry is responsible for 24 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
One major challenge facing the agriculture industry is how to minimize the environmental impact of agricultural operations and activities. Problems such as soil runoff, deforestation, soil acidification, loss of habitat, among others, are just some of the adverse effects arising from agriculture, and these are the same set of problems that environmental specialists set out to solve or mitigate.
Environmental specialists seek to improve agricultural processes with the environment’s health in mind in order to provide solutions to common problems that arise from large-scale agricultural operations.
Environmental scientists are expected to have a strong academic background in environmental science and engineering.
Working within the field of animal sciences, animal geneticists help the agriculture industry by addressing issues related to livestock, specifically its management and production.
In particular, animal geneticists identify which genes are responsible for giving a particular species or breed superior characteristics. They then use this information to cross-breed species to create a new breed of animals that are more resilient or have far more commercially desirable characteristics.
Having a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, genetics, or dairy science is usually a requirement to become an animal geneticist.
Water is a crucial component in agriculture. Worldwide, the agriculture industry is responsible for more than 70 percent of water consumption. Hydrologists who work in the industry are responsible for finding solutions to agriculture-related water problems—specifically those related to water availability, quantity, and quality—in order to find more efficient methods of irrigation.
Hydrologists are expected to have thorough knowledge in geology, statistics, computer science, biology, and chemistry. Those who work for local, state, and federal governments are also expected to be knowledgeable in environmental laws and policies.
Maintaining and improving soil quality is vital in crop farming, and this is an area where soil scientists and conservationists are expected to excel. These soil specialists rely on their expertise in soil science, plant science, and botany, analyzing soil several feet deep to assess its chemical and physical condition. They then use the information gathered to come up with innovative methods to treat soil, cultivate plants, and control pests and disease.
Finding your ideal career is only a matter of evaluating your strengths and matching your skills with your interests. Whatever field you choose, working in the agriculture industry is crucial as it is fulfilling and rewarding as you are helping ensure the world’s food supply.