Agriculturists study and develop the best practices for cultivating soil, raising livestock and growing crops. This includes caring for and breeding animals, protecting and harvesting crops and managing the soil. There are a variety of career options in this field, but many agriculturists specialize in a specific area.
An agriculturist who specializes in animals helps livestock farms increase their productivity and profitability. Work in this area concerns animal identification systems, breeding, living conditions, nutrition, emergency health management and emerging diseases that impact animals. Another concern is global trade and issues that arise with international commerce between countries, including contamination.
A crop agriculturist studies crop management, ecosystems, weed and pest control, and harvesting methods. The duties are often linked to new technology, such as developing harvesting equipment or herbicides and pesticides to minimize damage to crops. Stewarding plant and soil resources so their use is maximized and preserved is another concern for crop agriculturists.
An agriculturist can also specialize in farm management. Agriculturists in this area teach farmers how to design long- and short-term plans that increase profits. Analyzing all operations of the farm and its financial planning is also included.
Rural development is another specialization area for an agriculturist. This involves helping rural farmers with community development. These skills are also sometimes taken to other countries to help farmers there build and sustain food sources and economic growth.
Biotechnology agriculture is another career possibility for an agriculturist. These agriculturists sometimes engineer crops so they can tolerate certain insect pests and plant diseases. For example, the crops might be engineered to tolerate certain herbicides and make it easier to control weeds. This can reduce both the need for synthetic pesticides and the production costs associated with buying them.
Biotechnology can also be used to make more nutritious foods. For example, some research is seeking to lower food allergens while other research is targeting fats in cooking oils. Research in this area is even being used to explore plant-based pharmaceuticals.
Another part of biotechnology is developing crops that are more able to withstand harsh conditions. Bad weather, for example, can cause severe losses in crops. The fallout from this can be significant, causing higher prices for consumers and, in some cases, food shortages.
Many careers in agriculture will require at least a four-year degree. A strong understanding of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics is required. Colleges that specialize in agriculture often offer degree programs related to very specific areas, such as soil science. A master’s degree is usually required for careers that require conducting research.