Should I Become a Crop Scientist?
Crop scientists, also known as soil and plant scientists, work to improve the quality of food crops that we consume. This can include developing new methods for keeping pests and weeds at bay. Crop scientists work in a variety of settings, including laboratories, offices, and places where crops are grown. They might work outside in all kinds of weather and travel to different locations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agricultural and food scientists can expect a 5% increase in job opportunities from 2014 to 2024. This is about as fast as average for all occupations.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's, master's, or Ph.D.|
|Degree Field||Plant and soil science, agronomy|
|Experience||Entry-level with bachelor's degree|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking, data analysis, decision-making, observation, communication, and problem-solving skills; must be proficient with analytical, classification, database query, ESRI ArcGIS, and National Soil Information System (NASIS) software|
|Salary (May 2015)||$65,980 (Mean annual salary for all soil and plant scientists)|
Sources: Crop Science Society of America, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*NET Online, North Carolina State University, Payscale.com
Let's look at the step-by-step process to become a crop scientist.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in plant science, agronomy, or a closely related field is the first step in becoming a crop scientist. These degree programs emphasize the various sciences associated with agriculture. Crop production and agricultural biotechnology are common degree concentrations.
Internships are often required for graduation from a crop science program. Students may be able to parlay learning and networking opportunities into potential job offers after graduation.
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Step 2: Gain Employment
A graduate of a crop science bachelor's degree program might consider a career as a business consultant, independent crop producer, crop specialist, or farm manager. Crop scientists may find work with crop planning agencies, food processing companies, greenhouses, seed and grain production mills, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Step 3: Consider a Master's Degree or Ph.D.
Crop scientists who want to advance their careers often move into research positions. These opportunities typically require a master's degree or Ph.D. These degree programs are research oriented and usually have an emphasis in an area like plant breeding, crop quality and chemistry, crop management, or sustainable agriculture. Graduates of these programs are often employed in research or teaching.
Step 4: Consider Certification
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) offers professional certification for crop scientists. While certification isn't required, it often leads to greater employment opportunities. Eligibility for certification 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. Annual fees and continuing education are required to maintain certification. Recertification can demonstrate to employers that a crop scientist is actively engaged in furthering his or her career and education.
In summary, becoming a crop scientist involves earning a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Advanced education and voluntary certification could lead to more and better career opportunities.