Soil conservationists work with government agencies and those who use soil, such as farmers, to find the best ways to preserve and use it. Soil conservation studies are often found as concentrations or electives in soil science or resource management programs. Undergraduate certificate, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs exist in this field of study. The curricula combine classroom work in organic agriculture and soil science with field experiences.
Prerequisites include a high school diploma or its equivalent. Applicants should have a high aptitude in the sciences, such chemistry and biology. Some soil conservation certificate courses may be available online.
Certificates in Soil Sciences
Most certificate programs are offered primarily through natural resource or agricultural departments at the undergraduate level, with the focus of each program guided by the department. Agricultural programs lean toward teaching efficient use of soils in farming, either on a large scale or for personal organic farms, while conservation programs stress soil sciences applied to wilderness conservation concerns and emphasize natural resource and forestry topics.
Many programs encourage or require internships as part of the curriculum. Some schools allow credit from a certificate program to count toward a degree and might require students to enroll in a related degree program. Possible course subjects include:
- Chemistry for agriculture
- Soil as a living ecosystem
- Organic agricultural systems
- Soil spoilage management
- Soils and agricultural growth potential
Bachelor's Degree in Soil Conservation
Soil conservation is typically offered as a concentration in natural resource or soil science majors. Students in these 4-year programs might find academic professional and student networking groups offered through the school. Some schools allow students to work with faculty advisors to design their curricula to meet specific career goals.
A bachelor's degree program in soil conservation or soil science begins by teaching students basic foundations of soil composition and usage. Studies later branch into factors that have an effect on soils, such as crops and weather. Many programs encourage or grant academic credit for internships. Classroom and field studies may include:
- Sustaining soil ecosystems
- Characteristics of soil
- Soil nutrients and alteration factors
- Cultural and political factors in soil usage
- Meteorological effects on soil
- Pollution effects and solutions
Master's Degree in Soil Science
Many schools offer advanced soil conservation research studies through master's degree programs in soil science. Most of these graduate programs are found in schools of agriculture. Some programs allow students to specialize in specific fields, such as soil erosion and conservation. Master's programs are available in both thesis and non-thesis formats. Research is emphasized in a master's program, and some courses require significant lab or field training. Some examples of the topics covered include:
- Wetland and tropical soil composition
- Methods in determining soil characteristics
- Soil transmission of pollutants
- Protecting soil and agriculture from terrorism
- Soil fertility and crop rotation
Certificate programs are generally offered as knowledge enhancement studies rather than professional qualification training. Graduates might find topics covered provide specific job-related, supplemental training for the following professions:
- Organic farming
- Soil conservation
- Natural resource management
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most soil conservationists enter the job market with a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicted a 7% increase in employment opportunities for conservation scientists between 2014 and 2024, as fast as average for all occupations. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual wages for conservation scientists were $61,110.
Master's degree graduates can qualify for employment teaching soil ecology or soil conservation. The BLS estimated that all postsecondary teachers in environmental science will have 9% job growth for the years 2014 through 2024. Environmental science postsecondary teachers earned $78,770 as a median annual wage in 2015.
Several environmental, natural resource and conservation graduate schools offer Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in soil science for those interested in university teaching or conducting their own independent research. These programs typically prepare students for careers in academia with teaching assistantships and focus heavily on research.
Soil conservation programs are available at the certificate, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Bachelor's degree graduates can pursue employment in conservation science as farmers and conservationists, while master's graduates may qualify for jobs as environmental science teachers.