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Agricultural Scientists

At a Glance

  • Study plants and soils
  • Are also called agronomists
  • Work both indoors and outdoors
  • Often work alone
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree

Career summary

Agricultural scientists study plants and soils. They use science to protect, develop, and manage these resources.

Agricultural scientists are also known as fruit and plant scientists, plant pathologists, agronomists, and soil scientists.

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Agricultural scientists use the principles of biology, chemistry, and other sciences to solve problems in agriculture. They study:

Agricultural scientists study plants and soils to develop ways of improving food quantity and quality. They look for ways to improve how crops are grown. They also try to find ways to grow crops using less labor and chemicals.

Agricultural scientists try to find better, safer ways to control pests and weeds. They also study ways to conserve soil and water. They research ways of turning raw agricultural products into attractive and healthy food products for consumers.

Agricultural scientists may also work in range systems, meaning they work with livestock as well as plants and soil.

Another name for scientists who work with plants or crops is agronomists. Agronomists develop methods of growing crops with higher yields and improved characteristics. Sometimes agronomists use genetic engineering to develop crops which are resistant to pests and drought.

Agronomists identify and classify the insects that affect crops. They may research ways to develop new pesticides or other ways to keep bugs from spreading.

Soil scientists study what soil is made of and how different soils affect crops. In addition, they study how soil is managed while growing crops. This includes how soils respond to fertilizer and crop rotation. Soil scientists also develop ways to protect the soil.

Using the results of their studies, they provide information to farmers and other landowners about the best use of land. They recommend how to avoid or correct problems such as erosion.

Related careers

This career is part of the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to agricultural scientists.

Common work activities

Agricultural scientists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, agricultural scientists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Agricultural scientists frequently:

It is important for agricultural scientists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for agricultural scientists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Agricultural scientists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an agricultural scientist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

A bachelor's degree in agricultural science is required for jobs in research. In agricultural science, you study communications, economics, and business. You also take courses in physical and life sciences, plant pathology, and soil chemistry. In addition, you study plant physiology and biochemistry.

A doctoral degree (PhD) is required to lead research projects or teach at a college or university. To earn an advanced degree you complete more courses, do fieldwork, and do laboratory research. More jobs will require advanced degrees in the future.

All states have land-grant colleges that offer agricultural science degrees. However, not all colleges offer every specialty area.

Work experience

Previous work experience in a particular research area may be required for some jobs.

On-the-job training

In some work places, additional on-the-job training is offered to acclimate new employees to the particular work site and project. This training usually lasts a few months at most.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link).

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers in food science and technology hire applicants with a bachelor's degree to do applied research. The federal government hires bachelor's degree holders as soil scientists. Employers in businesses that work with farmers and ranchers also hire applicants with a bachelor's degree. These businesses who hire agricultural scientists are usually retailers, wholesalers, or farm credit institutions. Positions they hire for include manager, sales agent, product inspector, or purchasing agent.

Many employers prefer to hire people with a degree in agricultural science. Others may hire people with science degrees in biology, chemistry, or physics.

Employers who hire agricultural scientists to teach at colleges or universities prefer someone who holds a doctoral degree (PhD).

Employers prefer to hire agricultural scientists who are able to work independently or as part of a team. They also look for people who can communicate clearly, both in speaking and writing. Scientists may also need to have an understanding of business. For example, some agricultural scientists help farmers improve the quantity of their production and reduce their costs.


Summer jobs in the following areas are helpful: internships with county extension offices or the Natural Resources Conservation Service; technical help in agricultural, chemical, or fertilizer companies; or farm experience. Attending career fairs and agricultural industry seminars is also helpful. Computer skills are mandatory and advanced computer skills are a plus. Concentration on the environmental aspects of agricultural science may provide better opportunities. Willingness to relocate and learn new job duties may be necessary for some positions.

Costs to workers

Many join professional associations and pay annual dues. Agricultural scientists, who apply pesticides or provide pesticide consulting services while working for a government agency, must be licensed by the state and pay an annual fee. Other expenses include reference books and seminars or college classes to keep up with changes in the field.


Agricultural scientists are not licensed in Washington. Optional certification is available through the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, listed in the Other Resources section of this description. Jobs with the US Forest Service may require passing a background investigation and fingerprint check. Agricultural scientists who provide pesticide consulting services while working as a government employee or apply pesticides must have a license from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

For information on pesticide application licensing, contact:

Washington State Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Management Division (external link)
PO Box 42560
Olympia, WA 98504-2560

#Updated website address and checked other info 3/17/04 CJ. Looks like POB in pest-address changed, so made change to the insert file on the Update (U:) drive on the network 1/30/18 cj.

#Checked that NAICC still offers certification and verified licensing info we give, 2/27/06 & 2/13/08, & 2/3/10, CJ./ /

#no change 3/1/09 lh; or as of 2/6/12 cj; No change to existing info; added Forest Service note after seeing USFS Soil Scientist jobs that required fingerprints & background checks, 1/31/14 cj. Licensing section ok 2/2/16 & 1/30/18 cj. 4/11/19 lh

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Soil and plant scientists (SOC 19-1013)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $21.24 $26.64 $32.71 $40.07 $50.36
Monthly $3,681 $4,617 $5,669 $6,944 $8,727
Yearly $44,170 $55,410 $68,050 $83,350 $104,750
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $28.73 $34.88 $45.59 $55.31 $70.70
Monthly $4,979 $6,045 $7,901 $9,585 $12,252
Yearly $59,761 $72,554 $94,823 $115,031 $147,062
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $23.03 $27.83 $33.75 $41.79 $50.44
Monthly $3,991 $4,823 $5,849 $7,242 $8,741
Yearly $47,921 $57,880 $70,190 $86,905 $104,920
    Vancouver Hourly $11.25 $20.37 $34.16 $43.56 $49.00
Monthly $1,950 $3,530 $5,920 $7,549 $8,492
Yearly $23,396 $42,364 $71,068 $90,605 $101,911
    Yakima Hourly $21.17 $23.80 $28.33 $36.58 $56.62
Monthly $3,669 $4,125 $4,910 $6,339 $9,812
Yearly $44,045 $49,504 $58,941 $76,069 $117,771
United States Hourly $18.54 $23.52 $30.74 $40.42 $55.48
Monthly $3,213 $4,076 $5,327 $7,005 $9,615
Yearly $38,570 $48,910 $63,950 $84,060 $115,400

Agricultural scientists who have a PhD earn more than those with a master's or bachelor's degree. Agricultural scientists who work for the federal government are paid on a stair step pay scale. The more education and experience they have, the more they are paid. Federal employees need to apply and take a test to move up the scale.

Agricultural scientists who work full time usually receive benefits. Common benefits include paid vacation, health and dental insurance, and a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The outlook in Washington depends on the expansion of agricultural and soil-related research. Much will depend on the demand for agricultural scientists by public and private enterprises, particularly in the areas of environmental quality control and land use planning.

Biotechnological developments in the state may cause growth in the number of jobs in research with private industry. Emphasis on sustainable agriculture, which relies on soil conservation and reduced use of pesticides and fertilizer, may create some opportunity for agricultural scientists. Environmental issues and regulations that affect agriculture may increase the demand for consultants who can assist farmers in understanding and complying with related legislation.

There is also some demand in the seed production and technology area for trained agricultural scientists. Most soil scientists work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service which is part of the US Department of Agriculture.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Soil and Plant Scientists (SOC 19-1013)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 549 7.8% 16.1% 64
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 66 7.6% 13.4% 7
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 22 4.5% 8.6% 2
    Benton and Franklin Counties 29 6.9% 15.0% 3
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 10 10.0% 14.6% 1
    King County 259 5.4% 19.6% 28
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 29 34.5% 13.8% 5
    Pierce County 38 15.8% 15.2% 5
    Snohomish County 16 12.5% 12.4% 2
    Spokane County 15 20.0% 13.9% 2
United States 18,000 7.8% 5.2% 2,200

National employment

Agricultural scientists work in varied settings. Those who work for the federal government are mainly with the Department of Agriculture. Others work for state governments and help farmers and others who need information. Some agricultural scientists work for seed or food product companies.

Major employers:

National outlook

Growth for this occupation is driven by demand for new food products and increased food safety. Most growth in this occupation will be in the private sector as companies develop new food product, drugs, and crops.  Research will also be necessary as insects adapt to pesticides, and as soil and water quality decrease. 

Other resources

AgCareers.com (external link)
Western USA Office
AgForLife (external link)
Agriculture Council of America (external link)
11020 King Street, Suite 205
Overland Park, KS 66210
American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture (external link)
600 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20024
American Institute of Biological Sciences (external link)
1800 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191
American Society for Horticultural Science (external link)
1018 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
American Society of Agronomy (external link)
5585 Guilford Road
Madison, WI 53711
American Society of Plant Biologists (external link)
AmericanHort (external link)
Botanical Society of America (external link)
4344 Shaw Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63110
Careers in Botany (external link)
(from The Botanical Society of America)
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (external link)
4420 West Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50014
Entomological Society of America (external link)
3 Park Place, Suite 307
Annapolis, MD 21401
Grow Your Future (external link) (PDF file)
(from the Crop Science Society of America)
Horticultural Research Institute (external link)
525 - 9th Street NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004
Institute of Food Technologists (external link)
525 West Van Buren, Suite 1000
Chicago, IL 60607
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (external link)
100 Pineberry Drive
Vonore, TN 37885
National Farmers Organization (external link)
528 Billy Sunday Road, Suite 100
PO Box 2508
Ames, IA 50010
National Science Foundation (external link)
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 2231
Science Careers (external link)
Society for Range Management (external link)
6901 South Pierce Street, Suite 230
Littleton, CO 80128
Soil Science Society of America (external link)
5585 Guilford Road
Madison, WI 53711-5801
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
The American Phytopathological Society (external link)
3340 Pilot Knob Road
St. Paul, MN 55121
USDA Forest Service Research & Development (external link)
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (external link)
Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (Vesta) (external link)
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)
What is a Plant Pathologist? (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster