If you are considering applying to college for a major in agriculture, you might be wondering just what all the field encompasses and what you’ll learn.
Well, agriculture is both the study and practice of farming, which includes growing crops like cereals. It’s fascinating to see how farming has evolved over time, from the Bronze Age to modern times, with inventions like the seed drill and even fertilizing crops by drone. Today, agriculture has become a science that offers many exciting opportunities for research and development.
The agricultural sector is also one of the largest employers worldwide, with careers available in areas like soil sciences and self-sufficient farming methods. What’s more, there are groundbreaking developments in genetically modified crops and even synthetically manufactured meat. So, if you have a passion for agriculture, the possibilities are endless!
What You’ll Learn Studying Agriculture
An agricultural sciences degree will cover the practice of farming on both a small and large scale, exploring ethical and environmental solutions to feeding a growing global population. Modules can include topics like cropping and pasture sciences, as well as plant nutrition.
Agronomy, on the other hand, focuses on plant and soil sciences, working with businesses to find ways to optimize yields and promote sustainable farming practices. Agricultural economics incorporates applied economics with research into agriculture, analyzing finances and the impact of systems like tariffs on the industry. It also explores ways to make the most of natural resources.
Most undergraduate programs will offer a mix of core modules like public policy, data analysis, and environmental sustainability, along with electives like applied econometrics or livestock production science.
An undergraduate degree in agriculture usually takes three to four years, and some programs offer the opportunity for applied research at the doctoral level. Many courses are closely linked with local industries and may even have a micro-farm on site for students to gain hands-on experience.
You may also have the opportunity to take a year-long work placement, using the skills you’ve learned in your degree in a practical setting. Some agriculture programs even offer overseas placements, which can be a valuable experience in today’s globalized environment, as you learn about different farming approaches and environments.
With an agriculture degree, you have a variety of career opportunities to choose from. In this section, we’ll explore some of those options and learn how they can help you make a difference in the agricultural industry. Related jobs are listed here with a deeper dive into some careers below the initial list:
- Agricultural consultant
- Estates manager
- Farm manager
- Fish farm manager
- Plant breeder/geneticist
- Rural practice surveyor
- Soil scientist
- Field trials officer
- Forest/woodland manager
As a farm manager, you’ll be in charge of overseeing the daily operations of farming establishments. Your role may involve planning, organizing, and managing crops, livestock, and other resources. In addition, you’ll be responsible for:
- Maintaining financial and operational records
- Working with suppliers and vendors
- Negotiating contracts and developing marketing strategies
With your agriculture degree, you’ll have the skills and knowledge necessary to efficiently manage farm resources and make informed decisions that benefit the business and the environment.
An agronomy consultant is an expert in soil and crop management. In this role, you’ll advise farmers on the best practices for maximizing crop yields while maintaining environmental sustainability. Your responsibilities may include:
- Evaluating soil conditions and recommending treatments
- Developing crop rotation and nutrient management plans
- Assisting with pest and disease control strategies
Armed with your agriculture degree, you’ll be a valuable resource to farmers as they navigate the challenges of modern agricultural practices.
Agricultural Policy Analyst
Working as an agricultural policy analyst allows you to shape the policies and regulations that guide the agriculture industry. In this role, you’ll research and analyze critical issues in agriculture, such as:
- Food safety and security
- Commodity markets
- Environmental regulations
- Trade policy
By leveraging your agriculture degree, you’ll be equipped to offer insights and recommendations that can help shape the future of agriculture and ensure its long-term success.
Agriculture is a diverse field, and pursuing further education can provide you with more specialized knowledge and expand your career opportunities. Here, we’ll discuss potential Master’s and Ph.D. programs that you can consider after obtaining an undergraduate degree in agriculture.
Master’s programs in agriculture offer advanced coursework, research opportunities, and practical experiences in various fields. Some popular master’s degrees include:
- Master of Science (M.S.) in Agricultural Business & Economics
- Master of Science (M.S.) in Animal Science
- Master of Science (M.S.) in Food Science
- Master of Science (M.S.) in Plant Science
- Master of Science (M.S.) in Sustainable Agriculture
These programs can provide you with the skills needed for managerial, technical, or research-focused careers in agriculture. When considering a master’s program, research the available schools to find one that aligns with your professional interests and goals.
A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in agriculture focuses on advanced research and can prepare you for careers in academia or highly specialized positions in the industry. Some available Ph.D. programs include:
- Ph.D. in Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
- Ph.D. in Animal Sciences & Nutrition
- Ph.D. in Crop Sciences
- Ph.D. in Food Science & Technology
- Ph.D. in Horticulture & Landscape Architecture
Ph.D. programs may also require you to write and defend a dissertation, contribute original research to the field, and gain teaching or research assistantships. Explore different Ph.D. programs to determine if they align with your long-term objectives and are a suitable match for your interests.
As you pursue your agriculture degree, it’s essential to stay informed about industry trends shaping the field. One key trend is the impact of globalization and trade, with ongoing changes in trade agreements affecting agricultural exports and imports. For example, the expiration of the Phase One trade agreement has left future relationships with China uncertain, which may create challenges and opportunities in the agricultural sector.
Technological advancements are significantly influencing the agriculture industry. The use of blockchain technology in agricultural supply chains is expected to grow in the future. Blockchain offers a secure and transparent view of the supply chain, allowing both consumers and businesses to know precisely where their crops came from and how they were grown, shipped, and stored.
Another trend to watch is the shift towards large-scale farming and outsourcing of jobs. As Times Higher Education points out, more and more farmlands are being managed by large companies as family-run establishments outsource some jobs. This development means there may be a growing demand for professionals with expertise in agricultural business, economics, and logistics.
Emerging trends include:
- Globalization and trade changes affecting exports and imports
- Increased adoption of blockchain technology in supply chains
- Shift towards large-scale farming and outsourcing of jobs
By staying informed on these trends, you can better tailor your education and career choices to align with the evolving needs of the agriculture sector.
Networking and Associations
As you pursue your agriculture degree, it’s important to take advantage of networking and associations in the industry. These connections not only help you learn more about your field but can also lead to valuable job opportunities and professional growth.
Joining industry-specific associations is a great way to expand your knowledge and meet professionals who share your passion for agriculture. Associations such as National FFA Organization and National Agricultural Aviation Association offer networking opportunities, conferences, and resources tailored to the interests of agriculture students and professionals.
Consider also attending agriculture-related events such as Agritechture workshops, where you can learn about innovative solutions in your field and connect with like-minded individuals. Conferences offer presentations, workshops, and panel discussions on topics relevant to your degree, allowing you to stay current with the latest industry trends and advancements.
Another way to build your network is by participating in internships and co-operative education programs. Gaining hands-on experience with an agricultural company or organization can help you develop skills, increase your knowledge, and create professional connections that can benefit you in the long run.
Don’t forget the power of social media in your networking efforts. Following agriculture-focused accounts, joining groups, and engaging in conversations relevant to your field can help you stay informed and connected with professionals in the industry.
An agriculture degree equips you with a variety of skills. During your studies, you’ll gain both specific knowledge of the agricultural field and universal skills that can be transferred to other job sectors. Let’s take a look at some of the essential skills you can develop.
First, you’ll acquire knowledge in areas such as land use, agricultural business ethics, farming practices, horticulture, and the use of farm machinery. These skills can be applied in several agriculture-related job roles such as agricultural consultant, farm manager, or soil scientist.
In addition to specific agricultural knowledge, your degree helps develop critical thinking, analytical ability, and problem-solving skills. These universal skills are highly valued in various job sectors, enabling you to explore career choices outside agriculture if you wish.
Besides the technical and analytical skills, an agriculture degree also enhances your communication and teamwork abilities. Working in agriculture often involves collaborating with multidisciplinary teams, interacting with clients or stakeholders, and presenting complex information in a clear and concise manner. These soft skills are extremely valuable in any workplace.
Last but not least, your agriculture degree can further develop your adaptability and resilience. The agricultural sector faces various challenges like changing climates, fluctuating markets, and evolving technologies. By gaining expertise in these areas, you’ll be prepared to tackle the obstacles and make informed decisions in your future career.