Whether you grew up on a farm, are an active member of your local 4-H club, or are simply interested in how crops and livestock are raised, an agriculture major might pique your interest. Agricultural careers, which often include forestry-related roles, run the gamut from hands-on manual labor in the fields to the academic, where scientists toil in labs and greenhouses (and yes, fields) amid soil, plants, and livestock to figure out best practices for the production of food and other products. You could even end up working for the government as part of the USDA or EPA.
What do agriculture majors work on in school?
In addition to your gen-ed courses, you’ll likely start with general science courses such as biology (especially biology), chemistry, and physics. Then, depending on what specialty you branch off into, you’ll explore those sciences from that perspective—plant biology, for instance, if you plan to become a botanist, or animal biology if you’d like to stick to furry and feathered agricultural subjects. Those interested in agricultural engineering will need to take engineering principles and math courses, while general business courses will prove helpful if you plan to one day run a farm, fishery, or ranch. You’ll also dive into major-specific courses in the economics of agriculture and natural resources; industry-specific principles of ranch and farm management; environmental law; and the breeding and raising of livestock for meats, eggs, milk, and other products (aka “animal husbandry”).
So where can you expect an agriculture major to lead you?
You’ll be able to cultivate a variety of career choices.
Depending on what particular niche you gravitate toward during your undergraduate studies, you’ll have your pick of specializations. Your preference for animal, vegetable, or mineral may dictate whether you end up managing a farm, ranch, or fishery; breeding plants; or getting your hands dirty as a soil scientist. You could opt to become an agricultural engineer (a professional who’s concerned with the systems, processes, and machinery that keep the entire agricultural workflow humming), a wildlife biologist, or a water-quality specialist. Other specific possibilities include:
• Forest health specialist, forester, or park ranger
• Wetlands designer or consultant
• Beekeeper (bees play a super-important role in agriculture)
• Arborist, horticulturist, or landscaper
• Agricultural food scientist
• Agricultural inspector (making sure facilities adhere to local, state, and federal regulations)
• Viticulturist (involved in the production of wine)
Your pay will sustain you as you work toward sustainability in your field.
Many agriculturally tied jobs pay quite well, and most with just a bachelor’s degree as entry.
Conservation scientists, for example, enjoyed a median annual salary of around $60,000 in 2016, while agricultural and food scientists raked in almost $63,000. Go the agricultural engineering route and you can command an ever higher paycheck: nearly $74,000 in 2016, though you’ll need a degree specializing in agricultural or biological engineering to nab this job.
You’ll be surrounded by animals and plants in addition to humans.
If the natural world beckons you more than people-populated cubicles, you’ll be glad to know that, in most cases, a major in agriculture will likely lead you not just into the office, but also into the lab and possibly fields, forests, and fish tanks, depending on which career you opt for.
If you come from a farming or conservation-minded family, it’s a way to make a living while honoring your literal and figurative roots.
Keeping the family farm going, or branching off with your very own, may be a long-term goal. Attaining an agriculture degree can ensure you build upon the foundation you already have from your hands-on experiences, with additional schooling on the newest products, technologies, and techniques designed to ensure your business endeavor thrives. You may already have the necessary sense of responsibility and work ethic engrained in you from your childhood to run a successful farm or fishery—your agriculture major will expose you to methods to help you prep for things beyond your control, such as inclement seasons that ruin crops, financial downturns, and the volatility of supply and demand.
Experts in agriculture will always be necessary.
Until the ETs make contact and offer us the secret to alternative food sources, humans will likely always need food and other products derived from plants and animals—meaning agriculture is a field that won’t disappear anytime soon. In 2016, 11 percent of all US jobs were tied to agriculture and the food sector. Although it’s been a challenge for individual farmers to keep up with sustainable methods of producing goods, there are plenty of jobs in the field that can offer a fulfilling life’s work—and perhaps help those same farmers and goods producers stay viable. Just think: Your efforts could perhaps lead to a new technology, ecologically friendly equipment, or harvesting method that revolutionizes how people of the future are fed, clothed, or sheltered.