Agricultural Scientist

The Job and What's Involved

Agricultural science covers many scientific specialisms including plant science, animal science, soil science and crop science. Agricultural scientists research new methods of farming and then test them on experimental farms. They usually specialise in one area, such as animals, crops or soil.

There are many different types of jobs including animal health officer, animal welfare officer, agricultural consultant, plant breeder, plant pathologist and farm conservation adviser.

Tasks may include:

  • Carrying out tests, for example on feed content or pesticides.
  • Collecting and analysing information.
  • Carrying out research on subjects such as animal and plant diseases, pest control or the use of chemicals in farming.
  • Working out better ways of keeping and feeding livestock.
  • Developing new crops and more efficient methods for growing crops.
  • Visiting farmers and advising them on how to generate more from their farms.
  • Advising fruit growers and market gardens on how to get the best out of their business.
  • Liaising with businesses which produce seeds or chemicals for agriculture and horticulture to find out about their products.
  • Writing reports and keeping up to date on developments in the industry.

Agricultural scientists work closely with farmers and fruit growers, manufacturers of products such as animal feeds and seeds, and with other scientists. They use computers for report writing and specialist equipment for carrying out tests.

Agricultural scientists normally work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, they may have to work outside of these hours depending on their role. For example, animal health officers, soil specialists and plant breeders may have to work different hours to visit farms at convenient times for the farmer. However, most of their work is carried out in an office or a laboratory. Scientists in laboratories may have to work shifts if carrying out certain experiments.

There may be opportunities for part-time work and job share.

Agricultural scientists may have to wear protective clothing on farms, in greenhouses or in laboratories and a driving licence may be useful.

This work may not be suitable for people with allergies to animals or conditions such as hay fever.

A newly qualified agricultural scientist may earn from £17,000 to £22,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The land-based industries cover over 230,000 businesses and employ around one million people. There are also about 40,000 volunteers. Opportunities in agriculture are spread evenly across the UK but most land-based businesses employ very few people. There are opportunities for scientists throughout the country, depending on their specialism.

Employers include:

  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA), an executive agency of the Environment and Rural Affairs Department of the Scottish Executive.
  • Animal and plant feed developers and manufacturers.
  • Chemical companies producing fertilisers and similar products.
  • Agricultural and horticultural equipment suppliers.
  • Universities, institutes of higher education and colleges.
  • Agricultural consultants.

There is fierce competition for jobs. Jobs are advertised in the national press, specialist journals such as Farmers Weekly and Farmers Guardian and on the internet.

Education and Training

The typical entry route is a degree in agriculture or a related science. Degree subjects include animal nutrition, animal science, biological science, crop science, horticulture and soil science. Courses are offered by many universities and colleges throughout the UK.

Entry to a degree course requires at least two A levels/three H grades, normally including chemistry and maths, or another science subject. Alternative equivalent qualifications may be accepted.

A postgraduate degree in a specialism subject such as animal production, soil science, seed and crop technology or poultry science could be helpful.

Experience of farm work or horticulture is normally required.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Some people study part time for a postgraduate degree in a particular area, eg animal production, soil science, seed and crop technology or poultry science.

Experienced scientists may become chartered scientists (CSci) if they are members of a professional body validated by the Science Council. They normally need an accredited Masters degree or equivalent.

People with a combination of academic awards, vocational qualifications and relevant work experience and learning may also be considered. They also need four years experience, including two at an appropriate level of responsibility and appropriate professional development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An agricultural scientist should be:

  • Accurate, with good attention to detail.
  • Patient when carrying out experiments or waiting for test results.
  • Able to communicate clearly in speech and writing.
  • Able to analyse information and present it in an easily understood format.
  • Interested in how things grow.
  • Well organised.
  • Computer literate.
  • Able to get on with different people.
  • Able to adopt a flexible approach to work.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, agricultural scientists can move into more senior positions. This may involve more office-based work and less time travelling to farms and other outlets. Some people move into laboratory work, while others take on an administrative or finance role.

There are also opportunities to teach at university or college.

Since land-based industries are worldwide, there are opportunities for working abroad, sometimes in parts of the world where farming and growing methods are less well developed than in the UK.

Get Further Information

Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS),
Spring Lodge, 172 Chester Road, Helsby WA6 0AR
Tel: 01928 726006

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR
Tel: 020 7238 6000

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996

Lantra Scotland, Inveralmond Business Centre, Auld Bond Road, Perth  PH1 3FX
Tel: 01738 646762

Lantra, Welsh Regional Office, Royal Welsh Showground,
Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, Powys LD2 1WY
Tel: 01982 552646

Science Council, 210 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Tel: 020 7611 8754

Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA),
1 Roddinglaw Road, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH12 9FJ
Tel: 0131 244 8890

Society for the Environment (SocEnv),
The Old School House, Long Street, Atherstone, Warwickshire CV9 3SU
Tel: 0845 226 3625

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