Agricultural and Food Scientists

Summary

agricultural and food scientists image
Soil scientists examine the composition of soil and how it affects plant or crop growth.
Quick Facts: Agricultural and Food Scientists
2015 Median Pay $62,470 per year
$30.03 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 36,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 1,900

What Agricultural and Food Scientists Do

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Work Environment

Agricultural and food scientists work in various industries, including colleges and universities, manufacturing, and in scientific research and development. They work in offices, laboratories, and, sometimes, food production facilities. Most agricultural and food scientists work full time.

How to Become an Agricultural or Food Scientist

Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many get advanced degrees.

Pay

The median annual wage for agricultural and food scientists was $62,470 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for agricultural and food scientists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of agricultural and food scientists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about agricultural and food scientists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Agricultural and Food Scientists Do About this section

Agricultural and food scientists
Agricultural and food scientists may observe the production of field crops and farm animals so that they can research solutions to problems.

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Duties

Agricultural and food scientists typically do the following:

  • Conduct research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of field crops and farm animals
  • Create new food products and develop new and better ways to process, package, and deliver them
  • Study the composition of soil as it relates to plant growth, and research ways to improve it
  • Communicate research findings to the scientific community, food producers, and the public
  • Travel between facilities to oversee the implementation of new projects

Agricultural and food scientists play an important role in maintaining and expanding the nation’s food supply. Many work in basic or applied research and development. Basic research seeks to understand the biological and chemical processes by which crops and livestock grow. Applied research uses the knowledge gained to discover ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products.

Many agricultural and food scientists work with little supervision, forming their own hypotheses and developing their research methods. In addition, they often lead teams of technicians or students who help in their research. Agricultural and food scientists who are employed in private industry may need to travel between different sites to perform various duties for their employers.

The following are types of agricultural and food scientists:

Animal scientists typically conduct research on domestic farm animals. With a focus on food production, they explore animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, growth, and development. They work to develop efficient ways to produce and process meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Animal scientists may crossbreed animals to make them more productive or improve other characteristics. They advise farmers on how to upgrade housing for animals, lower animal death rates, increase growth rates, or otherwise increase the quality and efficiency of livestock.

Food scientists and technologists use chemistry, biology, and other sciences to study the basic elements of food. They analyze the nutritional content of food, discover new food sources, and research ways to make processed foods safe and healthy. Food technologists generally work in product development, applying findings from food science research to develop new or better ways of selecting, preserving, processing, packaging, and distributing food. Some food scientists use nanotechnology—problem-solving techniques that work on an atomic scale—to develop sensors that can detect contaminants in food. Other food scientists enforce government regulations, inspecting food-processing areas to ensure that they are sanitary and meet waste management standards.

Soil scientists examine the composition of soil, how it affects plant or crop growth, and how alternative soil treatments affect crop productivity. They develop methods of conserving and managing soil that farmers and forestry companies can use. Because soil science is closely related to environmental science, people trained in soil science also work to ensure environmental quality and effective land use.

Plant scientists work to improve crop yields and advise food and crop developers about techniques that could enhance production. They may develop ways to control pests and weeds.

Agricultural and food scientists in private industry commonly work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They typically improve inspection standards or overall food quality. They spend their time in a laboratory, where they do tests and experiments, or in the field, where they take samples or assess overall conditions. Other agricultural and food scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, where they use biotechnology processes to develop drugs or other medical products. Some look for ways to process agricultural products into fuels, such as ethanol produced from corn.

At universities, agricultural and food scientists do research and investigate new methods of improving animal or soil health, nutrition, and other facets of food quality. They also write grants to organizations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to get funding for their research. For more information on professors who teach agricultural and food science at universities, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

In the federal government, agricultural and food scientists conduct research on animal safety and on methods of improving food and crop production. They spend most of their time conducting clinical trials or developing experiments on animal and plant subjects. Agricultural and food scientists eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.

Work Environment About this section

Agricultural and food scientists
Agricultural and food scientists spend most of their time in laboratories and offices.

Agricultural and food scientists held about 36,100 jobs in 2014.

Agricultural and food scientists work in various industries, including colleges and universities, manufacturing, and in scientific research and development. The work of agricultural and food scientists takes place in laboratories, in offices, and in the field. They spend most of their time studying data and reports in a laboratory or an office. Fieldwork includes visits to farms or processing plants. 

When visiting a food or animal production facility, agricultural and food scientists must follow biosecurity measures, wear suitable clothing, and tolerate the environment associated with food production processes. This environment may include noise associated with large production machinery, cold temperatures associated with food production or storage, and close proximity to animal byproducts.

The industries that employed the most animal scientists in 2014 were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 31%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 17
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 15
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; private 9
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 6

The industries that employed the most food scientists and technologists in 2014 were as follows:  

Food manufacturing 45%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 13
Management of companies and enterprises 10
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 6
Testing laboratories 3

The industries that employed the most soil and plant scientists in 2014 were as follows:  

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 18%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 17
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 13
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 11
Federal government, excluding postal service 8

Work Schedules

Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time and have standard schedules. Certain positions may require travel. The amount of travel can vary widely.

How to Become an Agricultural or Food Scientist About this section

Agricultural and food scientists
Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many earn more advanced degrees. Some animal scientists earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

Education

Every state has at least one land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Many other colleges and universities also offer agricultural science degrees or related courses. Degrees in related sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, or in a related engineering specialty also may qualify people for many agricultural science jobs.

Undergraduate coursework for food scientists and technologists and for soil and plant scientists typically includes biology, chemistry, botany, and plant conservation. Students preparing to be food scientists take courses such as food chemistry, food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, and food-processing operations. Students preparing to be soil and plant scientists take courses in plant pathology, soil chemistry, entomology (the study of insects), plant physiology, and biochemistry.

Undergraduate students in the agricultural and food sciences typically gain a strong foundation in their specialty, with an emphasis on teamwork through internships and research opportunities. Students also are encouraged to take humanities courses, which can help them develop good communication skills, and computer courses, which can familiarize them with common programs and databases.

Many people with bachelor’s degrees in agricultural sciences find work in related jobs rather than becoming an agricultural or food scientist. For example, a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science is a useful background for farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, or farm equipment. Combined with coursework in business, agricultural and food science could be a good background for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses. For more information, see the profile on farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Many students with bachelor’s degrees in application-focused food sciences or agricultural sciences earn advanced degrees in applied topics such as nutrition or dietetics. Students who major in a more basic field, such as biology or chemistry, may be better suited for getting their Ph.D. and doing research within the agricultural and food sciences. During graduate school, there is additional emphasis on lab work and original research, in which prospective animal scientists have the opportunity to do experiments and sometimes supervise undergraduates.

Advanced research topics include genetics, animal reproduction, and biotechnology, among others. Advanced coursework also emphasizes statistical analysis and experiment design, which are important as Ph.D. candidates begin their research.

Some agricultural and food scientists receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Like Ph.D. candidates in animal science, a prospective veterinarian must first have a bachelor’s degree before getting into veterinary school.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Communication skills are critical for agricultural and food scientists. They must be able to explain their studies: what they were trying to learn, the methods they used, what they found, and what they think the implications of their findings are. They must also be able to communicate well when working with others, including technicians and student assistants.

Critical-thinking skills. Agricultural and food scientists must use their expertise to determine the best way to answer a specific research question.

Data-analysis skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like other researchers, collect data using a variety of methods, including quantitative surveys. They must then apply standard data analysis techniques to understand the data and get the answers to the questions they are studying.

Math skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like many other scientists, must have a sound grasp of mathematical concepts.

Observation skills. Agricultural and food scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or inaccurate results.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require soil scientists to be licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally include holding a bachelor’s degree with a certain number of credit hours in soil science, working under a licensed scientist for a certain number of years, and passing an examination.

Otherwise, certifications are generally not required for agriculture and food scientists, but they can be useful in advancing one’s career. Agricultural and food scientists can get certifications from organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), or the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others. These certifications recognize expertise in agricultural and food science, and enhance the status of those who are certified.

Qualification for certification is generally based on education, previous professional experience, and passing a comprehensive exam. Scientists may need to take continuing education courses to keep their certification, and they must follow the organization’s code of ethics.

Other Experience

Internships are highly recommended for prospective food scientists and technologists. Many entry-level jobs in this occupation are related to food manufacturing, and firsthand experience can be highly valued in that environment.

Pay About this section

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Life scientists

$72,090

Agricultural and food scientists

$62,470

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for agricultural and food scientists was $62,470 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $113,520.

Median annual wages for agricultural and food scientists in May 2015 were as follows:

Food scientists and technologists $65,840
Animal scientists 60,390
Soil and plant scientists 60,050

Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time and have standard schedules. Certain positions may require some travel. The amount of travel can vary widely.

Job Outlook About this section

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Life scientists

6%

Agricultural and food scientists

5%

 

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues. Pressures such as population growth, increased demand for water resources, combating pests and pathogens, changes in climate and weather patterns, and additional demand for agriculture products, such as biofuels, will continue to spur improvements in agricultural efficiency and sustainability.

Animal scientists will be needed to investigate and improve the diets, living conditions, and even genetic makeup of livestock. Food scientists and technologists will work to improve food-processing techniques, ensuring that products are safe, waste is limited, and food is shipped efficiently and safely. Soil and plant scientists will continue to try to understand and map soil composition. They will investigate ways to improve soils and will continue to selectively breed crops to resist pests and disease, improve taste, or to find uses for byproducts.

Job Prospects

A number of job vacancies will arise because many scientists are expected to retire within the next 10 years.

Employment projections data for agricultural and food scientists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Agricultural and food scientists

19-1010 36,100 38,000 5 1,900 [XLSX]

Animal scientists

19-1011 2,900 3,200 7 200 [XLSX]

Food scientists and technologists

19-1012 15,400 16,000 3 500 [XLSX]

Soil and plant scientists

19-1013 17,700 18,900 7 1,200 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

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Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of agricultural and food scientists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food science technicians

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products.

Associate's degree $36,480
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Doctoral or professional degree $82,150
Biological technicians

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor's degree $41,650
Chemical technicians

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, produce, and test chemical products and processes.

Associate's degree $44,660
Conservation scientists and foresters

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Bachelor's degree $60,220
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $67,460
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.

High school diploma or equivalent $64,170
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor's degree $67,550
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,490
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor's degree $59,680

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about food and animal scientists, including certifications, visit

American Society of Agronomy

American Society of Animal Science

American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists

Institute of Food Technologists

For more information about agricultural and soil scientists, including certifications, visit

Soil Science Society of America

For information from related governmental agencies, visit

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Smithsonian Institute

U.S. Department of Agriculture

O*NET

Animal Scientists

Food Scientists and Technologists

Soil and Plant Scientists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Agricultural and Food Scientists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/agricultural-and-food-scientists.htm (visited May 27, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.