On the Job
Agricultural scientists study plants and soils. They use science to protect, develop, and manage these resources.
Black plastic mulch has been around for years. It is used to warm the soil for heat-loving plants, such as peppers and tomatoes. It can also keep weeds away and keep the soil moist. However, the latest advancement in plastic mulch is not black, but red. Agricultural scientists discovered that plants such as tomatoes and strawberries produced 20% more when planted with a specific red-toned plastic. The red reflects a special wavelength of light to the plant. This stimulates the plant to grow more fruit. It also helps to suppress bugs that normally are attracted to tomato plants.Agricultural science is similar to biology. Agricultural scientists use the principles of biology, chemistry, and other sciences to solve problems in agriculture. These problems are usually with insects, crops, or soil use. The work agricultural scientists do plays an important part in increasing food production. Agricultural scientists study plants and soils to develop ways of improving food quantity and quality. They look for ways to improve how crops are grown. They also try to find ways to grow crops using less labor and chemicals. Agricultural scientists try to find better, safer ways to control pests and weeds. They also study ways to conserve soil and water. They research ways of turning raw agricultural products into attractive and healthy food products for consumers. Agricultural scientists may also work in range systems, meaning they work with livestock as well as plants and soil.
Another name for scientists who work with plants or crops is agronomists. Agronomists develop methods of growing crops with higher yields and improved characteristics. Their main approach to crop improvement is changing the seeds. Sometimes agronomists use genetic engineering to develop crops which are resistant to pests and drought. Thus, they examine the genetics, cellular biology, breeding, and physiology of crops. Other agronomists identify and classify the insects that affect crops. They may research ways to develop new pesticides or other ways to keep bugs from spreading. They also may vary the way crops are grown and managed. Much of an agronomist's time is spent planning and conducting studies of crop yields.
Soil scientists study the physics, microbiology, mineralogy, and fertility of soil. They study what soil is made of and how different soils affect crops. In addition, they study how soil is managed while growing crops. This includes how soils respond to fertilizer and crop rotation. Some scientists conduct surveys in which they classify and map soils. Soil scientists also develop ways to protect the soil. Using the results of their studies, they provide information to farmers and other landowners about the best use of land. They recommend how to avoid or correct problems such as erosion. Soil scientists may also consult with engineers and other technical workers about construction projects. They talk about how to solve soil problems in urban and rural areas. Soil science is closely related to environmental science.
Many agricultural scientists work in basic or applied research. Basic research is study for the sake of knowledge and understanding, rather than for creating or inventing products. Most basic research happens in colleges or universities. In contrast, applied research scientists take basic research findings and use them to create products or solutions. Many agricultural scientists manage research and development programs. Others manage marketing or production for businesses. These companies make food products or agricultural chemicals, supplies, and machinery. Some of these scientists are consultants. They work with business firms, private clients, or government agencies.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Communicate research and project results to other professionals and the public.
- Teach courses, seminars, or workshops.
- Provide information and recommend changes to farmers and other landowners about the best way to use land.
- Conduct experiments to develop new or improved crops. Record findings.
- Study plant and soil characteristics and problems.
- Develop new technology to reduce pests or weeds and to conserve soil.
- Perform chemical analysis to see how soil affects plant growth.
- Manage marketing or production for companies.
- Identify and classify species of insects.
- Survey disturbed and undisturbed lands for mapping, conservation, and reclamation planning.
- Supervise conservation and reclamation projects for a variety of purposes.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Analyze data or information.
- Use computers.
- Process information.
- Think creatively.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Document and record information.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Develop goals and strategies.
- Teach others.
- Coordinate the work and activities of others.
- Estimate sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a medium to high level of contact with people.
- Communicate daily by telephone, e-mail, and in person. They write letters and memos, but less often.
- Regularly work as part of a team.
- Are somewhat responsible for the work performed by others.
- Are somewhat responsible for the health and safety of others.
- Spend time outdoors conducting research at farms, and also work indoors in the lab.
- May work indoors in areas where there isn't temperature control, such as in a barn.
- May be occasionally exposed to contaminants.
- May travel to and from work sites in a van, car, or truck.
- Must be very exact in running tests and be sure that they follow the details and complete all tasks. Otherwise, the results of the tests may be useless.
- Make decisions that impact coworkers and their company on a monthly basis.
- Make most of their decisions independently, without feedback from a superior.
- Set most of their daily tasks and goals without feedback from a supervisor.
- Work in a moderately competitive atmosphere in which monthly deadlines must be met.
- Sometimes repeat the same mental and physical tasks.
- May work 40 hours a week in offices and laboratories.
- May work overtime when solving problems.
- May experience competition if researching new products for private companies.
- May travel to local or regional farms.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Spend time sitting in the lab, but also standing and walking out in the fields.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.