Best Career Options in Agriculture

Scientist testing plant sample in greenhouse lab
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There are many career opportunities in the agriculture field, beyond being a farmer. From engineering to veterinary science, plant science to sales, careers in this sphere span a vast range of skill sets.

Here are some of the best jobs in agriculture, which offer substantial income potential and a positive employment outlook.

Agricultural Engineers

Agricultural engineers design systems, machines, and equipment to support agricultural processes and solve problems. They apply principles of mechanical, electrical, computer, and environmental engineering to enhance farming operations.

Professionals in this field must complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree in agricultural or biological engineering. Generally, an internship in a farming environment is a great way to get started in this field. In addition, some candidates pursue traditional electrical, mechanical, civil, or computer engineering degrees, and complete specialized projects and internships in the agricultural sector.

Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agricultural engineers earned a median salary of $77,110 in May 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $46,500, and the highest 10% earned more than $116,850.

Job Outlook: The BLS estimates that employment of agricultural engineers will have grown by 8% between 2016 and 2026 – about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists investigate ways to improve the productivity, quality, and safety of field crops and farm animals. They create new food products and modify existing products, and also improve on methods for packaging, preserving, and delivering products.

Food scientists typically earn a bachelor’s degree in food or agricultural science. Some professionals go on to earn specialized advanced degrees in fields like toxicology and dietetics.

Salary: According to the BLS, the median annual income for agricultural and food scientists was $64,020 in May 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $38,740, and the highest 10% earned more than $116,740.

Job Outlook: The BLS predicts that overall employment of agricultural and food scientists will have grown by 7% between 2016 and 2026 – about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study the structure of water supplies, which is vital to any agricultural operation. They monitor and evaluate the impact of agriculture on water quality and research ways to minimize erosion and pollution.

Hydrologists often complete a master’s degree in geoscience, engineering, or earth science, with a specialism in hydrology.

Salary: According to the BLS, hydrologists earned an average of $79,370 in 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $48,820, and the highest 10% earned more than $122,890.

Job Outlook: The BLS expects employment for hydrologists to have expanded by 10% between 2016 and 2026 – faster than the average for all occupations.

Veterinarian Technicians

Veterinarian technicians play a significant role in the agricultural sector by supporting veterinarians as they examine and treat cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and other farm animals. Vet techs help to prepare instruments, perform tests, administer medications, and nurse animals.

Most vet techs complete a two-year post-secondary program in veterinary technology, though some individuals earn a four-year degree in the discipline.

Most states also require technicians to pass a licensure exam.

Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarian technicians earned an average of $34,420 in May 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $23,490, and the highest 10% earned more than $50,010.

Job Outlook: The BLS expects job growth in this sector to have expanded at the much-higher-than-average rate of 20% between 2016 and 2026.

Soil and Plant Scientists

Soil and plant scientists study and research crop production. They investigate innovative methods for treating soil, controlling diseases and pests, and breeding viable plants. Soil and plant scientists test the chemical, biological, and mineral composition of farm soils.

At the minimum, soil and plant scientists earn a bachelor’s degree in botany, plant science, soil science, or a related agricultural degree. Candidates in more senior roles generally also have a master’s degree, if not a Ph.D.

Salary: Soil and plant scientists earned an average of $62,430 in May 2017, while the bottom 10% earned less than $38,090, and the top 10% earned at least $112,390.

Job Outlook: The BLS estimates employment will have grown by 5–9% for soil and plant scientists between 2016 and 2026.

Agricultural Managers

Farm managers oversee agricultural operations. This occupation can include a vast range of roles and responsibilities, depending on the specific establishment. A farm manager might be responsible for hiring, training, and supervising farm laborers; scheduling and implementing planting and harvesting processes; and recording data on production and output. In addition, a farm manager might be responsible for maintaining financial records and marketing produce and livestock.

Farm managers come from a variety of educational backgrounds. Some managers have learned about operations through family farms or stints as farm laborers. Others complete bachelor’s degrees in agricultural science or business, with some coursework in agriculture.

Salary: According to the BLS, the median wage for farm and ranch managers in May 2018 was $67,950. The lowest 10% earned less than $35,440, and the highest 10% earned more than $136,940.

Job Outlook: While 1,028,700 individuals were employed as farm-related managers in 2016, the BLS anticipates little growth by 2026 owing to the consolidation of smaller farms into larger operations.

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for farm and ranch animals, working to ensure that animals are healthy and suitable for breeding, milking, or slaughter. They examine animals, perform operations, diagnose illnesses, vaccinate livestock, euthanize animals, and treat injuries.

Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at an accredited college.

They must meet state licensing requirements, including passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. 

Salary: Veterinarians earned an average of $93,830 in May 2018; 10% earned less than $56,540, and the highest 10% earned more than $162,450.

Job Outlook: The BLS estimates that opportunities for veterinarians will have grown by 19% between 2016 and 2026 – much faster than average.

Commodities Brokers and Traders

Agricultural commodities traders analyze price trends for products like soybeans, corn, coffee, sugar, cotton, milk, and meat. They establish market values and execute trades. Commodities brokers develop relationships with clients and sell agricultural products to food manufacturing and distribution clients.

Traders and brokers earn bachelor’s degrees in finance, agriculture, economics, or agribusiness. To work in this field, it’s necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of the factors affecting supply and demand of agricultural products.

Salary: According to Payscale, commodities traders earn an average of $78,214, with the bottom 10% earning $49,000 per year or less and the top 10% earning $138,000 or more.

Agricultural Equipment/Supplies Sales

Agricultural sales representatives promote farm products like seed, fertilizer, equipment, tools, fuel, software or computers, greenhouses, storage structures, and fencing. They negotiate terms of sales and secure clients, while also educating and training farmers on any new products that they sell.

Agricultural sales representatives come from a variety of backgrounds, including those with experience as farmers, as well as graduates of agricultural and business degree programs.

Salary: According to the BLS, manufacturing sales representatives, in general, earned an average of $61,660 in May 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $29,140, and the highest 10% earned more than $122,770.

Job Outlook: Opportunities in this sector are expected to have grown by about 5% between 2016 and 2026 – about as fast as average for all occupations.