CHOOSING A CAREER / NOV. 21, 2014
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How to Become an Agronomist in the US

Agronomists, also known as crop scientists, specialize in improving the quality of crop products. They conduct extensive research with the aim of developing new crop hybrids, and advise farmers on how to go about their agricultural activities in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. Do you have an interest in agriculture and good practical skills? If you do, this could be the right career for you.

The Work

The typical duties of agronomists include:

  • Conducting planning studies on how to improve crop yields
  • Making presentations to describe their research findings
  • Developing efficient methods of planting, harvesting and storing crop products
  • Controlling crop pests and diseases
  • Liaising with farmers to get their views on new crop hybrids
  • Acting as intermediaries between farmers and agricultural companies
  • Developing and implementing agronomy programs

Source: Purdue University

Work Environment

Agronomists work in a variety of settings, ranging from offices and laboratories to field sites where they can be faced with harsh weather conditions. Although they usually work about 40 hours a week, this may increase during planting and harvesting seasons.

The work involves a lot of travelling to fields in the country to conduct research. As such they may spend some time away from family. In the fields, they wear protective clothing such as boots and hand gloves.

Salary

The average salaries for agronomists in the US are:

Employer

Annual pay

Starting agronomists

$34,000 - $49,000

Experienced agronomists

$50,000 - $61,000

Agronomy managers

$62,000 - $80,000

Source: Payscale US

Entry Requirements

To become an agronomist, you will need a degree in a relevant subject such as:

  • Agronomy
  • Agricultural science
  • Soil science
  • Natural science

These programs have courses in soil chemistry, plant pathology, entomology, biochemistry and microbial soil ecology. As part of the university-based training, you will need to complete an internship to gain some practical work experience before graduating.

Training and Development

Even though most employers provide on-the-job training to newly hired agronomists, this is not enough to drive you to senior positions.

To increase your career progression chances, you need to:

Important Skills and Abilities

Successful agronomists have the following competencies:

  • An interest in science and the environment
  • Excellent math and analytical skills
  • Good verbal and written communication skills
  • A keen attention to detail and the ability to follow rules and guidelines easily
  • Good research and presentation skills
  • Good teamwork skills and a reasonable level of physical fitness

Job Opportunities

After gaining the required qualifications, you can look for jobs with:

  • Government agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Federal and state departments of agriculture
  • Soil science labs
  • Colleges and universities
  • Research firms
  • Weather forecast companies

With enough experience and further education, you can move into research and education. For instance, universities can hire you to teach students pursuing agronomy degrees. You could also become a self-employed professional by starting your own consulting business.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be about 1,200 new jobs for all plant and soil scientists, including agronomists, between 2012 and 2022. Although this is not an impressive number, you should not lose your interest in this career. As long as you have the right qualifications and the qualities that are desirable to employers, employment opportunities will still knock on your door.

So although this is certainly not a career suited to everyone, if you have the right drive and passion, then this might well be the right career choice for you.


Image: iStock

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