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Careers in Agricultural Biology: Job Options and Requirements

Agricultural biologists work for companies, farmers, universities and government agencies to find ways to improve the production of farm crops and animals. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary information for graduates.

Essential Information

Agricultural biologists strive to effectively manage farm crops and animals. To do this they study pests like insects, birds and small mammals. They also study plants, farm animals and beneficial insects like bees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's and Purdue University's Living Science website lists many specialties, including agronomist, animal geneticist, animal physiologist, botanist, entomologist, horticulturist and toxicologist. Agricultural biologists may work as basic or applied research scientists, as consultants to businesses and farmers or as food production managers.

Career Natural Science Managers Scientific Sales Representative Agricultural Scientist
Education Requirements Advanced Degree Master's Degree Doctoral Degree
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 6%* 10%* 9%*
Mean Annual Salary (2014) $136,450* $86,750* $66,250 (for food scientists)*

Source:'*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics'

Career Options

Jobs in agricultural biology vary in educational requirements and job training. Potential careers may include research and development scientists, agribusiness sales representatives, extension agents, farmers, farm managers and range scientists.

Natural Science Managers

Some agricultural biologists become administrators or managers of research and development programs in industry. For example, research and development programs may focus on food products, agricultural chemicals or farm machinery. These administrators or managers may not actively conduct research, but manage the people involved in the research program.

Individuals with positions as natural science managers typically begin with a bachelor's degree in a natural science and continue on to receive advanced degrees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job growth is expected to increase 6% between 2012 and 2022 and the mean annual salary for natural science managers was $136,450 in May of 2014.

Technical or Scientific Sales Representatives

Graduates with master's degrees in agricultural biology may become technical or sales representatives for companies that produce fertilizers, pesticides or hybrid plant varieties. These types of careers may require significant travel to meet with farm managers or farming cooperatives to present the available product lines.

Job growth for scientific sales representatives is expected to rise 10% for the decade starting 2012. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual salary in 2014 was $86,750 in May of 2014 for technical or scientific sales representatives.

Agricultural Scientists

Agricultural researchers, like geneticists, may conduct their research at state universities to find ways to develop new varieties of plants or strains of livestock. Publishing the results of these studies is often an important part of these jobs. Some researchers will also spend time teaching college classes.

The job outlook information listed for agricultural and food scientists states that employment in this field will grow by 9% between 2012 and 2022, which is as fast as the national average for all jobs. As of May 2014, food scientists were reported as earning an average income of $66,250 per year, while soil and plant scientists earned an average of $64,680 per year (www.bls.gov).

Agricultural Biology Requirements

Bachelor's Degrees

These four-year degree programs are offered in specialties such as animal science, agronomy, plant science, poultry science, dairy science or fisheries. Students interested in plant sciences may study crop nutrition, plant pathology, entomology and similar courses. Students interested in animal sciences may study anatomy, animal nutrition, physiology and other courses related to animal care and production.

Master's Degrees

Master's degree programs may be focused on a single agricultural biology subspecialty, like entomology, or a interdisciplinary focus that includes two or more subspecialties, like plant pathology and weed science. Candidates for a master's degree typically must have completed a bachelor's degree program first. The master's degree program usually requires the completion of at least 30 semester hours of classes. Most of these must be at the graduate level. A thesis may also be required, and some programs may include fieldwork requirements.

Doctoral Degrees

Candidates prepare a course of study with their graduate committee that includes advanced courses and fieldwork. The time needed to complete this degree program varies for each student. Proficiency in a foreign language or a research tool like statistics is also required. Most doctoral candidates must complete a dissertation and examinations before the degree is conferred.

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