Agronomist: Job Description, Duties, Salary and Outlook
Agronomists, sometimes known as crop scientists, specialize in producing and improving food crops while managing weeds and pests. Their jobs require experimentation and critical thinking. These agricultural scientists have a positive career outlook due to the continuous need for the food crops they help develop.
Job Description for Agronomists
As plant scientists, agronomists can have many career paths, but their careers are generally focused on increasing the quality and amount of food produced for the nation's food supply. They can be teachers, agricultural business consultants, researchers, or even work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They often work in the field, on farms, or in agricultural labs and mills.
Primarily, agronomists are tasked with conducting experiments and developing the best methods they can to increase the production and quality of crops. They have to understand the laws and regulations under which food crops must be produced. Based on their findings, agronomists may have to sell their ideas to others who will use the information for their crop harvests.
Agronomist Job Duties
Agronomists have varied duties that require them to think critically to solve problems. First and foremost, agronomists experiment and plan studies to improve crop yields. They study a farm's crop production in order to discern the best ways to plant, harvest, and cultivate the plants, regardless of the climate. It is also important for agronomists to develop methods to control weeds and pests to keep crops disease-free.
Agronomists often use mathematical and analytical skills in conducting their work and experimentation. Complex data and information that they develop must be worked into a serviceable format for public consumption. Agronomists relay their information in written form, making presentations and speeches as well as responding diplomatically to sensitive issues regarding their findings. Their ultimate goal is to work scientifically to produce the finest crops, on the most consistent basis that they can, in any situation.
Salary Information for Agronomists
Agronomists have a fairly wide salary range in the U.S. In December 2013, PayScale.com reported that agronomists earned an average base salary that ranged between $31,990 - $80,413 per year, with a total compensation, including bonuses, commission, and profit sharing, ranging from $31,568 - $84,409 annually.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), though certification is not required, agronomists who are professionally certified may have a better opportunity to earn a higher salary than those who aren't certified (www.bls.org).
Agronomists can seek voluntary certification through the American Society of Agronomy (www.agronomy.org). To be eligible to become a Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg), candidates must pass an exam and have a specific combination of education and experience. The higher a candidate's education level, the less professional experience is required.
Agronomist Career Outlook
In 2012 the BLS projected a 10% job growth for agricultural scientists, including agronomists, for the decade of 2010-2020. This rate of growth is consistent with the average growth projected for most occupations.
According to the BLS, job prospects are good in many fields for agronomists with bachelor's degrees. Agronomists with graduate degrees should also enjoy good prospects, though research and teaching opportunities at the higher academic levels may not be plentiful.
While some agronomists will be able to find positions in related fields, the BLS noted, as a whole this career is more stable than many, even with potential economic fluctuations. This is because food is a staple item in constant demand. Layoffs in the field are less common as a result of this stability.
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