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How to Become a Crop Scientist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a crop scientist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience needed for starting a career in the field of crop science.

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Should I Become a Crop Scientist?

Crop scientists, also known as agronomists, produce and improve the quality of food crops that we consume. These scientists develop new methods for keeping pests and weeds at bay.

Crop scientists work in a variety of settings, including laboratories, offices, or places where crops are grown. They occasionally work outside in all kinds of weather, and travel to different locations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals can expect an about as fast as average increase in job opportunities from 2012 to 2022.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Horticultural Science
  • Plant Breeding
  • Plant Pest Management
  • Range Science

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's, master's or Ph.D.
Degree Field Plant and soil science, agronomy
Certification Voluntary
Experience Entry-level with bachelor's degree
Key Skills Critical thinking, data analysis, decision-making, observation, communication and problem-solving skills, proficiency with analytical, classification, database query, ESRI ArcGIS and National Soil Information System (NASIS) software
Salary (2015) $49,462 per year (Median salary for all agronomists)

Sources: Crop Science Society of America, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O NET Online, North Carolina State University, Payscale.com

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Plant Science, a B.S. in Agronomy, or graduating from a closely related degree program is the first step in the process of becoming a crop scientist. These degree programs emphasize the fundamental elements of crops and the sciences associated with agriculture. Crop production and biotechnology of crops are common degree concentrations.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Internships are often required for graduation from crop science programs. Students may be able to parlay learning and networking opportunities into potential job offers after graduation.

Step 2: Gain Employment

A graduate of a crop sciences bachelor's degree program might consider a career as a business consultant, an independent crop producer, a crop specialist or a farm manager. Crop scientists may find work within the private job market at local crop planning agencies, food processing companies, greenhouses, seed and grain production mills, or with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Step 3: Consider Earning a Master's or Ph.D. Degree

Crop scientists wanting to advance their careers often move into research positions. These opportunities typically require a master's degree or Ph.D. These degrees are research oriented and typically have an emphasis in areas such as plant breeding, crop quality and chemistry, crop management or sustainable agriculture. Graduates of these programs are typically employed in research or teaching.

Step 4: Consider Certification for Career Advancement

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) offers professional certification for crop scientists, which may enhance career advancement opportunities. While certification isn't required for career advancement, greater employment opportunities are available to those with certification.

Once crop scientists gain a certain amount of experience and education, they can pursue certification testing. Eligibility includes having a bachelor's degree, and two years of relevant experience or four years of work experience in lieu of a degree.

Becoming a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) requires passing two exams and agreeing to uphold the Code of Ethics developed in conjunction with the certification. Annual fees and continuing education are required to maintain the certification. Recertification demonstrates to employers that a crop scientist is actively engaged in furthering his or her career and education.

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