Bureau of Labor Statistics

Agricultural and Food Scientists

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
2020 Median Pay $68,830 per year
$33.09 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2020 37,400
Job Outlook, 2020-30 9% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 3,200

Summary

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 laboratories, in offices, and in the field. 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 $68,830 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 4,400 openings for agricultural and food scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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

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 seeks 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 worksites.

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 problem-solving techniques from nanotechnology—the science of manipulating matter 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.

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.

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.

Agricultural and food scientists in private industry commonly work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They may 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 may eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.

Work Environment

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

Agricultural and food scientists held about 37,400 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up agricultural and food scientists was distributed as follows:

Soil and plant scientists 18,800
Food scientists and technologists 15,000
Animal scientists 3,500

The largest employers of agricultural and food scientists were as follows:

Food manufacturing 20%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 11
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Government 9
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 7

Agricultural and food scientists work 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.

Certain positions may require travel, either domestic, international, or both. The amount of travel can vary widely.

Work Schedules

Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time.

How to Become an Agricultural or Food Scientist

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 advanced degrees. Some animal scientists earn a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree.

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. Soil and plant scientists typically need a bachelor's degree in agriculture or a related field, such as biology or chemistry.

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 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 bachelors’ degrees in application-focused food sciences or agricultural sciences earn advanced degrees in applied topics such as toxicology 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, agronomy, 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 (DVM). Like Ph.D. candidates in animal science, DVM candidates must first have a bachelor’s degree to attend veterinary school.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Communication skills are critical for agricultural and food scientists. They must 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 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 exam.

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 is often valued in that environment.

Pay

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2020

Life scientists

$81,130

Agricultural and food scientists

$68,830

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for agricultural and food scientists was $68,830 in May 2020. 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 $40,520, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,280.

Median annual wages for agricultural and food scientists in May 2020 were as follows:

Food scientists and technologists $73,450
Soil and plant scientists 66,120
Animal scientists 63,490

In May 2020, the median annual wages for agricultural and food scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $83,780
Food manufacturing 73,760
Government 71,590
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 58,940
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 53,610

Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time.

Job Outlook

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Life scientists

11%

Agricultural and food scientists

9%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 4,400 openings for agricultural and food scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues. Challenges 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 create demand for research 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, to find uses for byproducts, and selectively breed crops to resist pests and disease, or improve taste.

Employment projections data for agricultural and food scientists, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Agricultural and food scientists

SOC Code19-1010
Employment, 202037,400
Projected Employment, 203040,600
Percent Change, 2020-309
Numeric Change, 2020-303,200
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Animal scientists

SOC Code19-1011
Employment, 20203,500
Projected Employment, 20303,900
Percent Change, 2020-3010
Numeric Change, 2020-30300
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Food scientists and technologists

SOC Code19-1012
Employment, 202015,000
Projected Employment, 203016,100
Percent Change, 2020-307
Numeric Change, 2020-301,000
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Soil and plant scientists

SOC Code19-1013
Employment, 202018,800
Projected Employment, 203020,700
Percent Change, 2020-3010
Numeric Change, 2020-301,900
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Agricultural and food science technicians Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists.

Associate's degree $41,970
Biochemists and biophysicists Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

Doctoral or professional degree $94,270
Biological technicians Biological Technicians

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

Bachelor's degree $46,340
Chemical technicians Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to assist chemists and chemical engineers.

Associate's degree $49,820
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 $64,010
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.

Bachelor's degree $73,230
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $68,090
Microbiologists Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.

Bachelor's degree $84,400
Veterinarians Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health.

Doctoral or professional degree $99,250
Zoologists and wildlife biologists Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.

Bachelor's degree $66,350

Contacts for More Info

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

Future Farmers of America

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 Institution

U.S. Department of Agriculture

National Institutes of Health

O*NET

Animal Scientists

Food Scientists and Technologists

Soil and Plant Scientists

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Agricultural and Food Scientists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/agricultural-and-food-scientists.htm (visited October 05, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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