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Become A Soil Scientist

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Working As A Soil Scientist

  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Processing Information
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Getting Information
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Make Decisions

  • $87,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Soil Scientist Do

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Duties

Agricultural and food scientists typically do the following:

  • Conduct research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of field crops and farm animals
  • Create new food products and develop new and better ways to process, package, and deliver them
  • Study the composition of soil as it relates to plant growth, and research ways to improve it
  • Communicate research findings to the scientific community, food producers, and the public
  • Travel between facilities to oversee the implementation of new projects

Agricultural and food scientists play an important role in maintaining and expanding the nation’s food supply. Many work in basic or applied research and development. Basic research seeks to understand the biological and chemical processes by which crops and livestock grow. Applied research uses the knowledge gained to discover ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products.

Many agricultural and food scientists work with little supervision, forming their own hypotheses and developing their research methods. In addition, they often lead teams of technicians or students who help in their research. Agricultural and food scientists who are employed in private industry may need to travel between different sites to perform various duties for their employers.

The following are types of agricultural and food scientists:

Animal scientists typically conduct research on domestic farm animals. With a focus on food production, they explore animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, growth, and development. They work to develop efficient ways to produce and process meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Animal scientists may crossbreed animals to make them more productive or improve other characteristics. They advise farmers on how to upgrade housing for animals, lower animal death rates, increase growth rates, or otherwise increase the quality and efficiency of livestock.

Food scientists and technologists use chemistry, biology, and other sciences to study the basic elements of food. They analyze the nutritional content of food, discover new food sources, and research ways to make processed foods safe and healthy. Food technologists generally work in product development, applying findings from food science research to develop new or better ways of selecting, preserving, processing, packaging, and distributing food. Some food scientists use nanotechnology—problem-solving techniques that work on an atomic scale—to develop sensors that can detect contaminants in food. Other food scientists enforce government regulations, inspecting food-processing areas to ensure that they are sanitary and meet waste management standards.

Soil scientists examine the composition of soil, how it affects plant or crop growth, and how alternative soil treatments affect crop productivity. They develop methods of conserving and managing soil that farmers and forestry companies can use. Because soil science is closely related to environmental science, people trained in soil science also work to ensure environmental quality and effective land use.

Plant scientists work to improve crop yields and advise food and crop developers about techniques that could enhance production. They may develop ways to control pests and weeds.

Agricultural and food scientists in private industry commonly work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They typically improve inspection standards or overall food quality. They spend their time in a laboratory, where they do tests and experiments, or in the field, where they take samples or assess overall conditions. Other agricultural and food scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, where they use biotechnology processes to develop drugs or other medical products. Some look for ways to process agricultural products into fuels, such as ethanol produced from corn.

At universities, agricultural and food scientists do research and investigate new methods of improving animal or soil health, nutrition, and other facets of food quality. They also write grants to organizations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to get funding for their research. For more information on professors who teach agricultural and food science at universities, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

In the federal government, agricultural and food scientists conduct research on animal safety and on methods of improving food and crop production. They spend most of their time conducting clinical trials or developing experiments on animal and plant subjects. Agricultural and food scientists eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.

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How To Become A Soil Scientist

Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, although many earn more advanced degrees. Some animal scientists earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

Education

Every state has at least one land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Many other colleges and universities also offer agricultural science degrees or related courses. Degrees in related sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, or in a related engineering specialty also may qualify people for many agricultural science jobs.

Undergraduate coursework for food scientists and technologists and for soil and plant scientists typically includes biology, chemistry, botany, and plant conservation. Students preparing to be food scientists take courses such as food chemistry, food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, and food-processing operations. Students preparing to be soil and plant scientists take courses in plant pathology, soil chemistry, entomology (the study of insects), plant physiology, and biochemistry.

Undergraduate students in the agricultural and food sciences typically gain a strong foundation in their specialty, with an emphasis on teamwork through internships and research opportunities. Students also are encouraged to take humanities courses, which can help them develop good communication skills, and computer courses, which can familiarize them with common programs and databases.

Many people with bachelor’s degrees in agricultural sciences find work in related jobs rather than becoming an agricultural or food scientist. For example, a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science is a useful background for farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, or farm equipment. Combined with coursework in business, agricultural and food science could be a good background for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses. For more information, see the profile on farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Many students with bachelor’s degrees in application-focused food sciences or agricultural sciences earn advanced degrees in applied topics such as nutrition or dietetics. Students who major in a more basic field, such as biology or chemistry, may be better suited for getting their Ph.D. and doing research within the agricultural and food sciences. During graduate school, there is additional emphasis on lab work and original research, in which prospective animal scientists have the opportunity to do experiments and sometimes supervise undergraduates.

Advanced research topics include genetics, animal reproduction, and biotechnology, among others. Advanced coursework also emphasizes statistical analysis and experiment design, which are important as Ph.D. candidates begin their research.

Some agricultural and food scientists receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Like Ph.D. candidates in animal science, a prospective veterinarian must first have a bachelor’s degree before getting into veterinary school.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Communication skills are critical for agricultural and food scientists. They must be able to explain their studies: what they were trying to learn, the methods they used, what they found, and what they think the implications of their findings are. They must also be able to communicate well when working with others, including technicians and student assistants.

Critical-thinking skills. Agricultural and food scientists must use their expertise to determine the best way to answer a specific research question.

Data-analysis skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like other researchers, collect data using a variety of methods, including quantitative surveys. They must then apply standard data analysis techniques to understand the data and get the answers to the questions they are studying.

Math skills. Agricultural and food scientists, like many other scientists, must have a sound grasp of mathematical concepts.

Observation skills. Agricultural and food scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or inaccurate results.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require soil scientists to be licensed to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally include holding a bachelor’s degree with a certain number of credit hours in soil science, working under a licensed scientist for a certain number of years, and passing an examination.

Otherwise, certifications are generally not required for agriculture and food scientists, but they can be useful in advancing one’s career. Agricultural and food scientists can get certifications from organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), or the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others. These certifications recognize expertise in agricultural and food science, and enhance the status of those who are certified.

Qualification for certification is generally based on education, previous professional experience, and passing a comprehensive exam. Scientists may need to take continuing education courses to keep their certification, and they must follow the organization’s code of ethics.

Other Experience

Internships are highly recommended for prospective food scientists and technologists. Many entry-level jobs in this occupation are related to food manufacturing, and firsthand experience can be highly valued in that environment.

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Average Yearly Salary
$87,000
View Detailed Salary Report
$52,000
Min 10%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$87,000
Median 50%
$146,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
The Dow Chemical Company
Highest Paying City
Saint Paul, MN
Highest Paying State
Alaska
Avg Experience Level
5.1 years
How much does a Soil Scientist make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Soil Scientist in the United States is $87,959 per year or $42 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $52,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $146,000.

Real Soil Scientist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Soil and Composting Scientist Warwick Mushroom Farms, LLC MD Sep 02, 2015 $313,050
Soil and Composting Scientist Warwick Mushroom Farms, LLC MD Aug 16, 2016 $313,050
Soil and Composting Scientist Warwick Mushroom Farms, LLC MD Sep 09, 2014 $290,093
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Filer, ID Sep 04, 2012 $107,100 -
$133,700
Soil and Plant Scientists Silver Vase, Inc. Homestead, FL Jul 15, 2013 $105,000
Soil and Plant Scientists Silver Vase, Inc. Homestead, FL Mar 04, 2014 $105,000
Soil and Composting Scientist Needham's Mushroom Farms, Inc. West Grove, PA Sep 14, 2016 $104,350
Soil and Composting Scientist Needham's Mushroom Farms, Inc. West Grove, PA Sep 14, 2013 $104,350
Soil and Plant Scientists Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Johnston, IA Aug 06, 2014 $103,812
Soil and Plant Scientists CEN-Cal Produce, Inc. Stockton, CA Feb 15, 2011 $100,714
Soil and Plant Scientist Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Waimea, HI Aug 29, 2012 $98,280
Soil and Plant Scientists Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Arlington, WI Oct 22, 2013 $97,644
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Saint Louis, MO Jun 16, 2011 $97,200 -
$118,800
Soil and Plant Scientists Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Woodland, CA Nov 20, 2013 $95,436
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Williamsburg, IA Feb 21, 2014 $81,200 -
$99,300
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Chesterfield, MO Feb 27, 2014 $81,200 -
$99,300
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Lebanon, IN May 13, 2014 $81,200 -
$99,300
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Flora, MS Jul 31, 2014 $81,200 -
$99,300
Soil and Plant Scientists Dow Agrosciences LLC Indianapolis, IN Sep 13, 2013 $80,964 -
$121,452
Soil and Plant Scientists Dow Agrosciences LLC Indianapolis, IN Oct 22, 2013 $80,964 -
$121,452
Soil and Plant Scientists Syngenta Seeds, Inc. Greensboro, NC Jan 21, 2014 $80,600 -
$120,800
Soil and Plant Scientists Mid-American Growers, Inc. Granville, IL Jul 09, 2012 $80,000
Soil and Plant Scientists The University of Georgia Tifton, GA Sep 07, 2011 $67,000 -
$75,000
Soil and Plant Scientists Agrigenetics D/B/A Mycogen Corporation Kaumakani, HI Jan 17, 2014 $66,024 -
$99,036
Soil and Plant Scientists Agrigenetics D/B/A Mycogen Corporation HI Jan 17, 2014 $66,024 -
$99,036
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Spencer, IA Jul 03, 2012 $65,320 -
$79,836
Soil and Plant Scientists Monsanto Company Kihei, HI Jun 30, 2011 $65,000 -
$67,000
Soil and Plant Scientists Agreliant Genetics, LLC Ames, IA Jan 30, 2012 $65,000 -
$85,000
Soil and Plant Scientists Agreliant Genetics, LLC Ivesdale, IL Feb 08, 2012 $65,000 -
$85,000
Soil Scientist Robin's Nest Park LP Coachella, CA Oct 01, 2011 $65,000

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Top Skills for A Soil Scientist

  1. Cooperative Soil Survey
  2. Water Samples
  3. Wetland
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Delineated initial soil map unit polygons, refined and validated in field using National Cooperative Soil Survey methods.
  • Direct soil analytic operations for all methods of soil analysis, water samples, and plant substrate.
  • Completed application processes for coastal and freshwater wetlands in RI and MA including Impact Avoidance Minimization Statements and Biological Narratives.
  • Promulgated Rules for the newly established registration of Professional Soil Scientist.
  • Assisted with writing soil descriptions and identifying important soil characteristics.

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Top 10 Best States for Soil Scientists

  1. Maryland
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Connecticut
  4. North Dakota
  5. Iowa
  6. New Jersey
  7. Arizona
  8. District of Columbia
  9. Vermont
  10. Nevada
  • (142 jobs)
  • (249 jobs)
  • (32 jobs)
  • (8 jobs)
  • (19 jobs)
  • (104 jobs)
  • (42 jobs)
  • (14 jobs)
  • (2 jobs)
  • (8 jobs)

Soil Scientist Demographics

Gender

Male

61.7%

Female

29.1%

Unknown

9.1%
Ethnicity

White

64.5%

Black or African American

11.4%

Hispanic or Latino

10.6%

Asian

9.4%

Unknown

4.1%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

French

30.0%

Spanish

30.0%

Portuguese

10.0%

Greek

10.0%

Arabic

10.0%

Italian

10.0%
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Soil Scientist Education

Schools

University of Connecticut

7.6%

University of Tennessee - Knoxville

7.6%

Pennsylvania State University

7.6%

West Virginia University

7.6%

North Carolina State University

6.3%

University of Rhode Island

6.3%

University of Florida

5.1%

Texas Tech University

5.1%

Purdue University

5.1%

University of Georgia

5.1%

Louisiana State University and A&M College

3.8%

Texas A&M University

3.8%

University of Nebraska - Lincoln

3.8%

New Mexico State University

3.8%

Alabama A & M University

3.8%

Oregon State University

3.8%

Tuskegee University

3.8%

Oklahoma State University

3.8%

Utah State University

3.8%

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

2.5%
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Majors

Soil Science

25.1%

Environmental Science

23.6%

Plant Sciences

12.0%

Geology

8.4%

Biology

3.7%

Ecology, Population Biology, And Epidemiology

3.7%

Geography

3.7%

Natural Resources Management

3.1%

Nursing

2.6%

Agriculture

2.1%

Forestry

1.6%

Management

1.6%

Agricultural Production Operations

1.6%

Sociology

1.0%

Microbiology

1.0%

General Education, Specific Areas

1.0%

Business

1.0%

Computer Applications

1.0%

Theology

1.0%

Agricultural Operation And Science

1.0%
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Degrees

Bachelors

49.8%

Masters

30.4%

Doctorate

9.7%

Other

6.0%

Certificate

2.8%

Associate

1.4%
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Jobs From Top Soil Scientist Employers

Soil Scientist Videos

The Hans Jenny Memorial Lecture in Soil Science - The Genius of Soil

Basic Soil Science

Citizen Science - Pt 4 of 4 - Life in the Soil w/ Dr. Elaine Ingham

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