How to Become an Agronomist
So, you are intrigued by the science of cultivating and utilizing plants, what next? Maybe becoming an Agronomist. Use this guide to learn what an Agronomist does and how to become one.
What Does an Agronomist do?
Agronomists, sometimes known as crop or agricultural scientists, use science to improve the ways in which we grow and farm crops. They conduct experiments and develop new methods of production for agriculture. There are a few different career paths that Agronomists might take, such as research, teaching, agricultural business consulting or inspections. Employers of Agronomists include the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), universities, and agriculture companies. Agronomists’ jobs may have them work out in the field on farms, or the may work in a lab.
No matter where they work, all Agronomists are focused on how to increase the quality and amount of food that farmers can produce. To do that, they study the ways plants can be cultivated and genetically altered, and think of ways to improve the process. This typically involves conducting experiments on plants and reporting on the findings. Some common Agronomist duties and responsibilities include:
- Conduct experiments. Agronomists work with farmers to implement new cropping practices to try and increase the farm’s economic return
- Collect samples in order to perform analyses. Agronomists collect biological and non-biological samples from the fields in which they work to have them analyzed, so that they can understand the environment in which their plants are growing.
- Monitor plant growth and crop performance. Agronomists carefully monitor the effects of outside factors on plant growth, such as soil characteristics, temperatures, water levels, pests, and water drainage.
- Consult with farmers on farming techniques. Agronomists encourage farmers to implement practices to increase crop growth, improve management, and protect environmental sustainability.
The ideal Agronomist is fascinated by learning and solving problems through science. Agronomists must always be up-to-date on the latest advances in the field, which means they need to always be learning. Like any scientist, an Agronomist should be a critical thinker, able to come up with new ways to tackle research questions or analyze a problem. A good Agronomist is also a good communicator; Agronomists have to explain their research and methods, whether they are talking to other experts or farmers. Other key Agronomist skills include:
- Ability to gather and analyze data using a variety of methods.
- Sound grasp of mathematical concepts.
- Precise observation skills and attention to detail.
- Ability to write routine reports and correspondence.
How Do You Become an Agronomist?
Education and Training
To become an Agronomist you will need, at a minimum, to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. Many colleges and universities offer degrees in agricultural science, but a degree in a related science, such as biology, chemistry, or physics may also qualify you for an Agronomist position. As an agronomy student, you will typically focus on a specialty, such as soil science or plant pathology. Many agronomists also have a master’s or PhD.
Most Agronomists start their career by doing an internships in an area they are interested. This provides first-hand experience, which is valuable for entry-level Agronomists.
To practice as an Agronomist you may need a license, depending on your area of focus and the state you are working in. This is particularly true for Agronomists who focus on soil science. Licensing requirements are different in each state, but may require passing an exam. Beyond that, certifications and licenses are generally not required for Agronomists. However, certifications that recognize expertise in a particular are of agronomy can enhance and Agronomists status and enhance their career prospects. These are available through professional associations.
Finding a job
As we will always need a steady supply of crops to keep us fed, job prospect for Agronomists are good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of all Soil and Plant scientists will grow 7 percent by 2024. Our changing planet means more research is being one on agricultural production methods and techniques, creating new jobs for Agronomists. Agronomists will be needed to find novel ways to breed crops to resist pests and disease and find sustainable ways to create the food products society needs.
A successful Agronomist job search begins with a well-written resume. A resume should showcase your skills and experience. For ideas on what a good resume looks like, take a look at our library of Agronomist resume samples.
After crafting your resume, begin your online job search for Agronomist job opportunities. As you look for opportunities, think of ways to leverage your professional network, including people you met through school or previous work.
When you are ready to apply for an open Agronomist position, bolster your application with a strong cover letter that highlights your skills and explains why you’re the right fit for the job. For cover letter ideas, check out our collection of cover letter samples.
Insights from an Agronomist
To provide you an inside look at what an Agronomist’s career looks like, we talked to Kim Nicholson, an Agronomist who spent much of her career in the crop protection chemical industry. Here’s what she had to tell us.
What is the common career path for an Agronomist?
Most field Agronomists land in the fertilizer retail, crop protection or seed business at the start as a technical Agronomist or sales Agronomist. A few will move on to become private consulting Agronomists for either large growers or a group of growers. All provide excellent career pathways and have good earning potential in the agribusiness field.
What should someone consider before becoming an Agronomist?
Do you have a passion for growing things? Do you like working in an outdoor/field environment? The hours can be very erratic and are heavily tied to the growing seasons of the crop or crops you are managing. Are you a life long learner?
What type of person excels in this job?
A person with good technical skills, excellent interpersonal skills, well organized, a good problem solver and able to multi-task through complex situations.
What are some of the most important skills for an Agronomist to have?
Interpersonal skills, organizational skills, lifelong learners, technical agronomy skills (soil and crop sciences), leadership skills, negotiation skills.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an Agronomist?
Helping growers be the most productive they can be as they tackle the challenge of producing food and fiber for our ever-expanding population. Literally seeing the real fruits of your labor as a crop grows and produces its final output.
How Much Do Agronomists Get Paid?
Most Agronomists are paid an annual salary, with the median annual wage for all soil and plant scientists being $60,050. The lowest earning 10 percent of Agronomists make less than $36,500 a year, while the highest 10 percent earn more than $113,520.
Top 10 States for Agronomist Salary
Agronomists in the following states make the highest median annual wage in the U.S.
- New Hampshire: $86,080
- Maryland: $78,930
- District of Columbia: $78,590
- Washington: $77,550
- Mississippi: $76,150
- New Jersey: $73,030
- Idaho: $71,230
- Connecticut: $69,050
- Alaska: $68,730
- Nevada: $68,100
If you’re looking for more information on becoming an Agronomist, here are some additional resources to help you in your career search.
On the Web
The Agronomist Speaks – Head to this blog for current information on Agronomy and great resources regarding fertilizers, pesticides, management and more.
Ask the Agronomist Blog – This is a great resource for anyone considering a career in agronomy – it includes posts covering all kinds of agronomic information experts who provide Agronomists.
Beck’s Hybrids – Get a sense of the everyday life of an Agronomist from this blog that covers everything from daily life on a farm to how to best grow wheat.
American Society of Agronomy – This society provides information about agronomy in relation to soils, crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use. It also offers publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives.
Soil Science Society of America – For Agronomists focused more on soil science, this is the place to go. It provides certifications, education, outreach and networking for members.
Crop Science Society of America – This organization has excellent education opportunities, in-depth research and publications, and useful industry news.
Introduction to Agronomy: Food, Crops, and Environment – If you want an introduction into Agronomy, this detailed textbook is the place to start.
Hands-On Agronomy – This guide explains to reader how balanced soil produces healthier crops with a higher yield, and provides a system of fertility management.