If you’re interested in a career as an agronomist, you’re probably someone who’s interested in plants, and perhaps even farming as well. Agronomy is the study of plants and soil, and how to utilize plants for feed, fuel, fiber and most of all food for the world’s hungry population.
When applied to farming, agronomy is actually a crop science, and it encompasses physiology, genetics, cell biology, and plant breeding. Another facet of crop science is the production of high quality seeds.
Another branch of agronomy is involved with soil sciences. Agronomists who work in this field must be knowledgeable in soil physics, microbiology, and chemistry as it relates to plants.
Make no mistake, the study of crops and soil is extremely important, especially with the rapidly growing world population. Billions of people have to be fed a nutritious diet every day or face starvation, and the production of high-quality food on an ever-shrinking planet is a challenge now and well into the future.
Agronomists also work to protect the natural environment. By producing more food on the same acre of land, there’s less need to turn valuable rain forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems into farmland. This allows wild plants and animals to keep their native habitats without fear of encroachment by an ever-growing world population.
About the job
Using a variety of research tools and techniques, agronomists benefit society by developing new crop strains and varieties that are drought resistant, and grow more efficiently and produce more food. Agronomists who specialize in soils conduct research in water and land management, crop rotation, and ways of managing soils in ways that will benefit people and the environment.
In fact, much of the work of today’s agronomist involves reducing environmental pollution whenever possible. For example, much research is performed in the area of how pesticides react with the soil and groundwater. How toxic they are, and how long it takes for them to break down into harmless compounds. Other research focuses on the effects of dumping chemicals and waste materials into the soil, a practice that is all too common in some Third World countries.
Other agronomists work closely with farmers to solve their farming problems, and help them be more productive. They often work at agricultural extension services, which are typically located in land-grand universities in rural areas of the country. There they work on specific problems that local farmers have, and help them better manage their land and farms.
Many agronomists are also employed by the Federal Government, both in the soil conservation service and the forest service. Since they are involved in the vital work of crop production, they’re work is needed all over the world. Government agencies, colleges and universities, and various foundations, as well as agriculture-related businesses with branches in foreign countries, need the services of agronomists to help solve the nutritional needs of developing countries around the world.
There are also many agronomists today who are becoming ranchers and farmers themselves. Their unique education and experience is utilized in growing their own crops, and this gives them a big advantage when it comes to managing and working their own farm land.
Training and certification
If you’re interested in agronomy, and you’re still in high school, you should focus on studying the basic sciences, including chemistry, math, biology and physics. And if you plan on working overseas at some point in your career, you should learn at least one foreign language as well.
By the time you get to college, the following courses are highly recommended: botany, microbiology, genetics, plant physiology, soil chemistry, biochemistry, geology and meteorology. Once you’ve earned your Bachelor’s Degree, you’ll be ready for work as a farmer, soil conservationist, or agricultural agent.
If you decide to go on and earn a Master’s Degree, you’ll find many more career opportunities available, especially in research. Both private sector and governmental agencies need highly educated and skilled professionals now and into the future, as the need for environmentally safe crops and “clean” soil continues.
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