Best Jobs in Agriculture

Scientist testing plant sample in greenhouse lab
••• Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images

There are many occupations 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.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agricultural engineers earned a median salary of $74,780 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $47,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,880. The BLS estimates that employment of agricultural engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 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.

According to the BLS, the median annual income for agricultural and food scientists was $62,910 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $116,520. The BLS predicts that overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 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 concentration in hydrology.

According to the BLS, hydrologists earned an average of $79,990 in 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,870. The BLS expects employment for hydrologists to expand by 10 percent from 2016 to 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.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarian technicians earned an average of $33,400 in May of 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,350. The BLS expects much higher than average job growth of 20 percent from 2016 to 2026 for vet techs and technologists.

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.

Soil and plant scientists earned an average of $62,430 in May 2017, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $38,090, and the top 10 percent earned at least $112,390. The BLS estimates average growth of 5–9 percent for soil and plant scientists from 2016 to 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.

According to the BLS, the median wage for farm and ranch managers in May 2017 was $69,620. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,360, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $135,900. There were 1,028,700 individuals employed as farm-related managers in 2016, and the BLS anticipated little growth by 2026 due 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.

Veterinarians earned an average of $90,420 in 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $159,320. The BLS estimates that opportunities for veterinarians will grow by 19 percent from 2016 to 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. In order to work in this field, it’s necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of the factors impacting the supply and demand for agricultural products.
According to Payscale, compensation for commodities traders ranges from $49,000 per year on the lower end to $185,000 per year on the higher end.

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.

According to the BLS, manufacturing sales representatives, in general, earned an average of $60,340 in May 2017. Opportunities were expected to grow by about 5 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as average for all occupations.

Agricultural Meteorologists

Agricultural meteorologists analyze weather patterns and provide forecasts tailored specifically to farmers. Agricultural meteorologists study computer models that incorporate live and historical data to predict emerging weather events that will impact agriculture. Forecasts are used by farmers to plan planting, irrigation, harvesting, insect control applications, and other farm activities.

Agricultural meteorologists complete a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, supplemented by coursework in agriculture, botany, and related fields. Some candidates will complete master’s degrees with a specialization in agricultural meteorology.

According to the BLS, meteorologists earned an average of $92,070 in 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $138,250. Employment for meteorologists is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than average for all occupations.

Agricultural Products Truck Driver

Commercial truck drivers transport agricultural products like corn, wheat, milk, soybeans, and livestock to distributors, retailers, slaughterhouses and food manufacturers. They execute or supervise the loading of products and also ensure truck conditions are optimal to maintain the quality of the product and limit damage or spoilage on the way to their destination.

Agricultural truck drivers must have an appropriate commercial driver’s license (CDL) for the types of vehicles that they operate, as well as a solid driving record. Drivers must pass a drug test in order to qualify. High school or college coursework in agriculture is helpful.

According to the BLS, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earned an average of $42,480 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,000. Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations: 6 percent from 2016 to 2026.