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Agronomist


Description

Everyone needs to eat. All humans, no matter where they live or what they do for a living, must eat a minimum requirement of nutrients if they want to stay alive. All of our food originates in the soil. Even dedicated meat eaters wouldn't survive without plantlife--what do you suppose cows and sheep munch on? Soil, water and plants are the basic things that sustain our food supply. Agronomists study soil and food production, and look at how human activities can change the soil, develop methods to conserve and manage soil, and try to rehabilitate damaged or polluted land.

Agronomists often specialize. One may look at ways to grow plants without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and work on organic farms, while others may work in laboratories, and experiment with new chemical pesticides and herbicides on test plants. Some work with genetically modified plants to create new, stronger species that don't require any chemical sprays for protection. Some work as advisors to farmers, in an effort to help them improve their farming production capabilities and environmental responsibilities.

In general, though, agronomists study the chemical composition of soil, water and plantlife, and look for ways to improve and increase the world's food supply, with healthy results. The field is exciting because there are so many differing views. Some agronomists are advocates of genetic enhancement and chemical modification, while others are interested in natural food production. Both sides have their merits, and the scientists must learn to work together to create a sound and sustainable solution to the problems of soil destruction as well as world hunger.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$28,750
 
Median Salary:
$48,670
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$85,460

  Interests and Skills  
Agronomists need to be interested in the science of soil and plants. They should also be an environmentally concerned person. They need a love of the outdoors, and enjoy helping others solve problems. Strong organizational skills, good communication (and listening) skills, and the ability to work independently and as part of a team are a few of the skills agronomists need. They should be patient, as well as curious. Agronomists must be healthy enough to spend hours at work in the heat outdoors.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Investigate soils (origins, composition, toxicity)
  • Study soil fertility and plant nutrient levels
  • Identify degraded soils and develop plans to improve them
  • Develop improved soil management practices for farmers and forestry companies
  • Survey undisturbed and disturbed lands for mapping, environmental impact assessments, environmental protection planning and conservation and reclamation planning
  • Develop waste management programs for composting and farming
  • Devise and develop new fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides
  • Explain and present research and project results to other professionals and the public
  • Teach related courses, seminars or workshops
  • The typical day for an agronomist will depend on the capacity in which they work. Some spend all day indoors, teaching classes and performing lab research, while others tour the countryside, advising farmers on individual basis. They write articles, host information days for the public, and meet with other scientists to discuss developments in the world of agronomy.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Agronomists work outside on fields and pastures, as well as inside research labs and lecture halls, giving classes and information sessions. They work for government departments, farming and breeding associations, universities and colleges, fertilizer companies, coal, oil, gas, and forestry companies, consulting firms, pharmaceutical firms, food product companies, and engineering companies, as well as independently as advisors to individual ranchers and farmers. They work alone, as well as in a team of other specialists, including engineers, biologists, land use planners, and farmers.
  • They may work long hours, especially if they must travel. They don't have to work weekends or evenings very often, unless they are making a presentation or are en route to their next project.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Agronomists can specialize in many different areas, so there should always be opportunities for advancement and exploration of other areas of agricultural study. They can work for research companies, or start up a private business of their own, in agricultural counseling, or otherwise. They can write books and articles about agriculture, become environmental advocates or start up their own organic farms.
 

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as an agronomist, you need to have a background in agriculture. While it is helpful to have grown up in an agricultural community, it's not a requirement--a genuine interest in the science is enough.

Agronomists have at least a master's degree in agriculture, forestry, biology, environmental or earth sciences, with a specialization in soil science. Many enter the field as technicians or assistants with only a bachelor's degree in these areas, but advancement usually comes with a master's or doctoral degree.

Other supporting subjects would be botany, biology, psychology, chemistry, communications, languages, computers and zoology.

A good way to get started on this career path is to find a position as a summer student with an agricultural board.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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