Agricultural and food scientists held about 35,600 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up agricultural and food scientists was distributed as follows:
|Soil and plant scientists||18,000|
|Food scientists and technologists||14,900|
The largest employers of agricultural and food scientists were as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||17|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||10|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||8|
Agricultural and food scientists work in laboratories, in offices, and in the field. They spend most of their time studying data and reports in a laboratory or an office. Fieldwork includes visits to farms or processing plants.
When visiting a food or animal production facility, agricultural and food scientists must follow biosecurity measures, wear suitable clothing, and tolerate the environment associated with food production processes. This environment may include noise associated with large production machinery, cold temperatures associated with food production or storage, and close proximity to animal byproducts.
Certain positions may require travel, either domestic, international, or both. The amount of travel can vary widely.
Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time.
Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many earn advanced degrees. Some animal scientists earn a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree.
Every state has at least one land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Many other colleges and universities also offer agricultural science degrees or related courses. Degrees in related sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, or in a related engineering specialty also may qualify people for many agricultural science jobs.
Undergraduate coursework for food scientists and technologists and for soil and plant scientists typically includes biology, chemistry, botany, and plant conservation. Students preparing to be food scientists take courses such as food chemistry, food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, and food-processing operations. Students preparing to be soil and plant scientists take courses in plant pathology, soil chemistry, entomology (the study of insects), plant physiology, and biochemistry.
Undergraduate students in agricultural and food sciences typically gain a strong foundation in their specialty, with an emphasis on teamwork through internships and research opportunities. Students also are encouraged to take humanities courses, which can help them develop good communication skills, and computer courses, which can familiarize them with common programs and databases.
Many people with bachelor’s degrees in agricultural sciences find work in related jobs rather than becoming an agricultural or food scientist. For example, a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science is a useful background for farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, or farm equipment. Combined with coursework in business, agricultural and food science could be a good background for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses. For more information, see the profile on farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.
Many students with bachelors’ degrees in application-focused food sciences or agricultural sciences earn advanced degrees in applied topics such as toxicology or dietetics. Students who major in a more basic field, such as biology or chemistry, may be better suited for getting their Ph.D. and doing research within the agricultural and food sciences. During graduate school, there is additional emphasis on lab work and original research, in which prospective animal scientists have the opportunity to do experiments and sometimes supervise undergraduates.
Advanced research topics include genetics, animal reproduction, agronomy, and biotechnology, among others. Advanced coursework also emphasizes statistical analysis and experiment design, which are important as Ph.D. candidates begin their research.
Some agricultural and food scientists receive a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM). Like Ph.D. candidates in animal science, a prospective veterinarian must first have a bachelor’s degree before getting into veterinary school.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require soil scientists to be licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally include holding a bachelor’s degree with a certain number of credit hours in soil science, working under a licensed scientist for a certain number of years, and passing an exam.
Otherwise, certifications are generally not required for agriculture and food scientists, but they can be useful in advancing one’s career. Agricultural and food scientists can get certifications from organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists(ARPAS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), or the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others. These certifications recognize expertise in agricultural and food science, and enhance the status of those who are certified.
Qualification for certification is generally based on education, previous professional experience, and passing a comprehensive exam. Scientists may need to take continuing education courses to keep their certification, and they must follow the organization’s code of ethics.
Internships are highly recommended for prospective food scientists and technologists. Many entry-level jobs in this occupation are related to food manufacturing, and firsthand experience is often valued in that environment.
Agricultural and food scientists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an agricultural and food scientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Agricultural and food scientists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Communication skills. Communication skills are critical for agricultural and food scientists. They must be able to explain their studies: what they were trying to learn, the methods they used, what they found, and what they think the implications are of their findings. They must also be able to communicate well when working with others, including technicians and student assistants.
Critical-thinking skills. Agricultural and food scientists must use their expertise to determine the best way to answer a specific research question.
Data-analysis skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like other researchers, collect data using a variety of methods, including quantitative surveys. They must then apply standard data analysis techniques to understand the data and get the answers to the questions they are studying.
Decision-making skills. Agricultural and food scientists must use their expertise and experience to determine whether their findings will have an impact on the food supply, farms, and other agricultural products.
Math skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like many other scientists, must have a sound grasp of mathematical concepts.
Observation skills. Agricultural and food scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or inaccurate results.
The median annual wage for agricultural and food scientists was $65,160 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,830.
Median annual wages for agricultural and food scientists in May 2019 were as follows:
|Food scientists and technologists||$68,970|
|Soil and plant scientists||63,200|
In May 2019, the median annual wages for agricultural and food scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||$76,220|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||60,470|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||55,180|
Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time.
Overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.
Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues. Challenges such as population growth, increased demand for water resources, combating pests and pathogens, changes in climate and weather patterns, and additional demand for agriculture products, such as biofuels, will continue to create demand for research in agricultural efficiency and sustainability.
Animal scientists will be needed to investigate and improve the diets, living conditions, and even genetic makeup of livestock. Food scientists and technologists will work to improve food-processing techniques, ensuring that products are safe, waste is limited, and food is shipped efficiently and safely. Soil and plant scientists will continue to try to understand and map soil composition. They will investigate ways to improve soils, to find uses for byproducts, and selectively breed crops to resist pests and disease, or improve taste.
For more information about food and animal scientists, including certifications, visit
American Society of Animal Science
American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists
Institute of Food Technologists
For more information about agricultural and soil scientists, including certifications, visit
Soil Science Society of America
For information from related governmental agencies, visit
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Department of Agriculture