Agricultural and Food Scientists: Keeping the Nation’s Food Supply Safe

Without agricultural and food scientists, the nation’s food supply might not be safe for human consumption. An integral part of the food supply system, agricultural and food scientists ensure that the current agricultural system is both productive and safe by studying farm crops and animals, pest and weed control methods, and soil and water conservation. If they find that a crop is unsafe for consumption, these professionals look for ways to increase the safety by dealing with farmers and government regulatory agencies.

  • The study of genetics in biotechnology has allowed agricultural and food scientists to manipulate the genetic material of plants and crops in an attempt to increase their resistance to diseases and produce more product. These advances have opened up a host of opportunities to research and increased interest in the production of biofuels; some agricultural and food scientists work specifically with farmers, biologists and chemists to create ways in which to turn food (such as corn) into fuel (such as ethanol).
  • Another exciting field that is emerging in this area of life sciences is nanotechnology. This molecular manufacturing technology is expected to revolutionize the way food is tested for contamination and spoilage. In fact, some scientists are already using nanotechnology to develop sensors that detect contaminant molecules in food.
  • Many scientists in this area work in research and development, seeking to understand the ways in which plants and animals grow, with the goal of increasing their yield while maintaining their safety. Some research and development scientists manage and administer these programs and market them to companies that produce food in order to gain funding for their testing.

Agricultural and food scientists can work in many specialty areas and their area of expertise can cover everything from studying the chemical, physical, biological and mineralogical composition of soils to product development and food processing. They might enforce government regulations, develop a more efficient way to package a food product, or provide recommendations to farmers regarding ways to prevent erosion. The focus of one’s work will largely determine the education and training necessary for the job.

Those seeking a career in the private sector working in product development or applied research require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. However, those who aim to work in the research field at a higher institution, such as a university, must have a master’s or doctoral degree. With a Ph.D. in agricultural science, an individual is considered qualified to teach at a university and even work in senior research positions, although these professionals often start their careers in research or training.

With the world’s increasing dependence on alternative fuel sources and the growing population’s need for high-yielding, safe crops, careers for agricultural and food scientists will continue to grow. As food crosses borders and oceans, these individuals must be readily available to research and implement new methods to ensure food safety for our growing population. Additionally, in recent years it has become obvious that conserving what’s left of our finite resources is critical to the survival of people, plants and animals. As a result, farmers and corporations will continue to strive to reduce their impact on the environment and will increasingly turn to food and agricultural scientists to assist them in developing safe, low-impact growing methods.

While those with a master’s or doctoral degree stand to make more money in their lifetime working in this field, jobs that will challenge them will remain limited. Conversely, those holding a bachelor’s degree will have the most opportunity for job growth, as they will find many careers in related fields such as farm- and ranch-related managerial positions, consulting services, and even sales and marketing for organic farming companies. Because of the nature of this field and the reliance that the world has on food and fuel, agricultural and food scientists are relatively immune to recessionary layoffs and other downturns in the economy.

Upon entering this field and depending on the specialty of work, agricultural and food scientists can expect to earn approximately $33,000 per year; some individuals in this field earn more than $100,000 per year.