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Agricultural Technologist


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 elements that sustain our food supply. Agricultural technologists study soil and water conditions, as well as look at how human activities like overcultivation and fertilizer use can change the soil, and work at developing methods to conserve and manage soil, like aeration and planting techniques, as well as try to rehabilitate damaged or polluted land.

Agricultural technologists 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, discovering the origins of plant disease and insect infestation, and may attempt to breed or cultivate new, resistant species. 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. They bring scientific knowledge directly to the farmers.

Other agricultural technologists study things at the local level, and then bring their findings to research scientists. When a scientist develops a new environmentally-sound fertilizer, it may be up to the technologist to monitor its success on a few local farms. They might also work alongside soil scientists, who require their help in developing chemical treatment or drainage methods.

Agricultural technologists can work in a number of different ways, bringing their expertise to farmers and scientists alike. The field is exciting because there are so many differing views. Some technologists are advocates of genetic enhancement and chemical modification, while others are interested in natural food production. Both sides have their merits, and 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:
n/a
 
Median Salary:
$28,579
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
n/a

  Interests and Skills  
Successful agricultural technologists are interested in the science of soil and plants. They enjoy working outdoors, and enjoy helping others solve problems. These individuals must have strong organizational skills, good communication (and listening) skills, and should be able to work alone as well as part of a team. They should be analytical in their thought processes, but creative enough to use their imagination when working through a problem.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Investigate soils (origins, composition, toxicity)
  • Assess quality of groundwater
  • 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
  • Advise farmers on environmentally sound practices
  • Teach related courses, seminars or workshops
  • Help restore natural habitats on agricultural lands
  • The typical day for an agricultural technologist will depend on the capacity in which they work. Some spend all day indoors performing lab research, while others tour the countryside, advising farmers on an individual basis. They write articles, host information days for the public, and meet with other interested technologists and scientists to discuss developments in the world of agronomy. 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.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Agricultural technologists work outside on fields and pastures, as well as inside research labs and lecture halls. They work for governments, farming and breeding associations, universities and colleges, fertilizer companies, coal, oil, gas, and forestry companies, conservation authorities, environmental organizations, consulting firms, research institutes, 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.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Agricultural technologists 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 consulting, or otherwise. They can write books and articles about agriculture, become environmental advocates, or start up their own organic farm.
 

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as an agricultural technologist, 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.

While there is no set educational path to becoming an agricultural technologist, completion of a two- to three-year college program in a field related to agriculture, biology, microbiology, wildlife or resource management is usually required for employment.
 

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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