Plants are some of the most common renewable and sustainable natural resources on earth, and agronomy is the study of how to efficiently cultivate crops for food, fuel, medicine, textiles and building materials.
The earth’s human population is over seven billion, and it is growing every day. Subsequently, resource conservation and management are high priorities for everyone. Aspiring agronomists usually begin their careers by earning undergraduate degrees in agricultural science with specialties in areas like soil science, food science, nutritional science and even bacteriology.
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Here are some common course topics that undergraduate agriculture science students take, careers for which they qualify after degree completion and the employment outlook for those career choices.
Feature Course Topics in Agriculture Science
Agriculture degree programs cover a broad array of special interest areas. A key course topic for agriculture science students is resource-optimized crop management. In this type of course, students learn to identify the water, nutrient, carbon dioxide, light and heat requirements for optimal growth of crops. They come to understand that different crop management techniques are applied based upon the type of crop and its ultimate use.
Another common course topic is plant protection and health. Students learn to identify unhealthy plants that are plagued by pests which can be seen with the naked eye as well as those that require a microscope to view. They are also introduced to integrated pest management practices that are involved in the cultivation of both conventional and organic food crops. In today’s society, extensive world travel is the norm, and the risk of introducing invasive species of plants and animals into regional ecosystems is high. Agriculture science students are likely to take courses that help them to determine the existence of invasive species within specific areas and their impacts to the surrounding native plants.
Common Careers for Agronomy Degree Graduates
Agriculture science graduates can normally choose from among careers that focus on the technical aspects of crop cultivation or the business of growing and selling crops for profit. For instance, these graduates find work as soil scientists who help to make sure that farm land has sufficient nutrients to support the sustained growth of food crops. They work as farm managers for farms of all sizes and specialties. Besides overseeing daily farm operations, farm managers help to decide which crops to plant to optimize profits. The research and development of biofuels that can be used to power items from cars to power plants has also created project management jobs in the energy sector for agriculture science graduates.
Employment Outlook for Agriculture Jobs
Agriculture jobs like farm manager and soil scientist paid annual median salaries of $64,170 and $65,980 respectively in 2014 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the same BLS survey reported that job growth for farm managers was on the decline, and soil scientist positions were projected to only achieve moderate growth. Niche sectors like organic farming and biofuel energy production are likely to yield more employment options for agriculture science graduates.
Some agriculture researchers believe that many necessities for the modern human existence can be derived from non-toxic, plant sources. This mindset is somewhat controversial as agricultural crops are traditionally seen as food sources. Since there are places around the world that cannot generate enough food to feed their growing populations, many people view planting biofuel crops that compete with food crops for land use as irresponsible and socially insensitive. Some of the challenges for agronomy practitioners are to identify and maintain ethical practices when it comes to growing plants for multiple uses.