Green Jobs: what does an Agronomist do?
An agronomist’s job is to help farmers with their crop production, improving it in order to produce high quality, healthy yields. They do this by examining the state of the soil and water and experimenting with and noting different solutions that enhance plant growth and conditions and improve agricultural production. Agronomists essentially are the link between crop researchers and farmers and are key to helping farmers engage in more innovative forms of agriculture.
Following a career in agronomy right now is a great way to enter the ever-growing market of green jobs and play an active role in tackling climate change, as the agricultural sector starts to prioritise more sustainable ways of farming.
Associate Professor of Agriculture, Dr Nicola Cannon from the Royal University of Agriculture says: “Moving towards less energy intensive cropping systems can make a big impact on carbon sequestration and reducing greenhouse gas emissions on farms.
“Most farmers engage with an agronomist to help guide them through adopting different crop establishment techniques, introducing cover crops and reducing inputs whilst aiming to develop climate resilient farming systems.”
What are the job responsibilities?
- Conducting experiments and research on soil and water, as well as other factors that might impact growth of crops
- Fixing crop growing problems clients are having by conducting field trials
- Recording and analysing crop yield and financial data and reporting on those findings
- Finding ways to keep crops pest and weed-free
- Offering advice on policy and legislation assessing the risks and impacts for farmers and growers
- Land-use planning in line with regulations
- Teaching students and communities about crop science, doing lectures and presentations.
Who might your employers be?
An agronomist can work independently, for small companies, big manufacturers, or distributors that might use fertilisers, seeds, or other agrochemical products in their crop production. They can also be found working for research organisations, environmental companies, or if in a teaching role, for universities and colleges.
What qualifications do you need?
Studying A-Levels in either biology or chemistry offers a good foundation to apply to a relative degree at university. Other useful pre-university qualifications include business and economics. It is also possible to study a Level 3 college course in the UK such as the Extended Diploma in Agriculture (equivalent to 3 A-Levels), which usually requires between 4-5 GCSEs from 9 to 4 (A*- C).
A Bachelors course in the STEM sector will be the most helpful to study to become an agronomist, as several degrees in this area usually offer modules on agronomy.
Some of the best undergraduate degrees for this career path include:
– Crop and plant science
– Soil science
It is also possible to become an agronomist by applying for the Level 6 apprenticeship: Agriculture or Horticulture Professional Adviser, which is currently being offered at the University of Lincoln. For this, around 4-5 GCSES graded 9 to 4 (A*-C) are usually needed, including in Maths and English. Having work experience in an agricultural environment prior to application is also useful.
The BASIS Foundation Award in Agronomy is another alternative option for study if you haven’t worked in the industry before and don’t know a huge deal about crop science. It is fully accredited by Harper Adams University
Completing a Masters degree in a related field can also give prospective agronomists an edge in the market. Some MScs that are currently taking applications in the UK include:
- Future Food Sustainability at Cranfield University
- Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at Royal Agricultural University
- Agriculture for Sustainable Development at University of Greenwich
- Agri-Food Technology at University of Lincoln
- Sustainable Crop Production: Agronomy for the 21st Century at University of Warwick
- Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement at University of East Anglia
- Agricultural Technology and Innovation at Royal Agricultural University
Nicola also notes it is important “To gain practical on farm experience to improve understanding of the practical management of crops and understand where opportunities and constraints exist.
“Then or alongside this it is always important to go crop walking with agronomists and to use this time to understand their role within different farming businesses.”
Some university courses may offer industrial placements as part of their course. Even if they don’t, doing some personal research or having discussions with the university’s career office can lead to finding a valuable placement during the holiday months.
What is the salary like?
The average salary for entry-level agronomists in the UK with under 3 years of experience in the industry is around £20,000-£30,000. The average salary is around £37,000 leading to around £45,000-£65,000 if you are more experienced (usually over 10 years of work in the industry).
Where will you be working?
The working environment of an agronomist is quite varied. They tend to work in offices, farms, research facilities or specific sites. Travel happens on a regular basis and outdoor work will occur occasionally.
Working hours can vary but usually range between 37 to 40 hours a week.
What’s the career progression like?
You will likely start out as a Trainee Agronomist when entering the industry, with the ability to be promoted to a Senior Agronomist or Agronomy Manager. Other paths also could include specialising in precision agriculture methods as well as creating nutrition plans for specific crops like fruits, vegetables or cereals.
Having a Masters degree in a certain specialisation can also allow you to take on a consultant role.
Is there a demand for this job?
With greener developments in agriculture being continuously sought for, agronomy is a secure job sector with lots of opportunity.
According to Nicola, “Agronomy is an exciting place to be as technology is developing quickly within the sector which is improving decision making and will helping target crop management by improving input use efficiency and reacting to changes within the field.
“The agronomist is well placed to help farmers map out the future of cropping systems which determine the economic and environmental sustainability of the farm.”