Agricultural scientist

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Wayne, 32

Fact file

Job description: Develop commercial plant crops and their cultivation techniques in order to improve the amount and quality of grain or other product that they produce.

Subjects studied: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English and Maths.

Further training: Wayne studied at the University of Adelaide and completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences with Honours (four years). He is currently completing a PhD (four to five years part-time).

Salary: Public sector: $40,000-$75,000 or private sector: $50,000-$100,000 a year.

Profile

A childhood spent on a farm has proved invaluable experience for a career in Agricultural Science.

"My mother encouraged me to study and go to University. My Agricultural Science, Biology and Chemistry teachers at High School made Science interesting."

These are the reasons Wayne pursued a degree in Agricultural Science (with Honours) from the University of Adelaide and now finds himself employed at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) in Horsham. Wayne manages the oilseed breeding program, including the breeding of new plant varieties. (Oilseeds produce oil used in food production e.g., canola for margarine).

Farmers rotate their crops - that is, they plant certain crops at particular times of the year. The development of new plant varieties enables farmers to diversify the crops they can grow, and the addition of canola into the cropping rotation means that farmers will be able to generate more product, make more money and in the long run, make farming more sustainable. The issue of security is a real one in Wayne's industry, as new plant varieties give returns to the developer (in this case, the DPI) and ultimately the industry and the country.

Wayne supervises 16 staff and is responsible for managing resources, projects and associated budgets.

"I am responsible for organising team meetings, planning meetings and team building exercises. The research part of my job is very seasonal. For example, between April and July I am probably sowing, designing breeding and research trials or working in the glasshouses. Between June and November I am travelling around Australia speaking at field days, planning and writing up research or attending meetings. November to April is harvest time. I also analyse and interpret data, write reports and speak with farmers."

There is a large amount of travel associated with this kind of work. Wayne spends at least six to eight weeks a year travelling interstate, inspecting trials and attending meetings. He has travelled overseas three times in the last seven years and there is the prospect of further overseas travel on the horizon. Travel is mainly to Canada and the USA where he keeps up to date with the latest technology but conference participation can take him further afield to Europe.

Wayne's hard work and dedication to the industry has paid off. He has gained promotion within the NRE and industry recognition for the development of new plant varieties. He is proud to be working in an area that has direct benefit to farmers, the community and the environment.

Wayne now has many options in front of him when he considers his future, he can remain in his current field, run his own research company, or go farming!

If students are interested in a career such as Wayne's he advises them to stick with science subjects at school and to do some work experience or a summer job at a research institute. Try to get experience in a wide range of associated jobs so that you understand the 'bigger picture'. This will make you better at your job in the long run.

Job specs

Agricultural scientists study commercial plants, animals and cultivation techniques to improve the productivity and sustainability of farms and agricultural industries.

Duties

An agricultural scientist may perform the following tasks:

  • Act as a consultant in the application of science to the practice of agriculture
  • Carry out research programs on the breeding, nutrition needs and disease resistance of plants and animals
  • Provide technical information to farmers and commercial firms trading in agricultural commodities and produce
  • Study the effects of agriculture on the environment by collecting and analysing samples of soil, groundwater and plants
  • Carry out experimental programs in controlled environments to develop better environmental management methods
  • Assist farmers in the planning and monitoring of agricultural activities, and in the diagnosis and treatment of problems (e.g. nutrient disorders in plants and livestock; weed and plant disease management)
  • Train and coordinate the work of technicians and field workers
  • At senior levels, supervise and coordinate research teams, prepare funding applications and communicate the results of research
  • Prepare policy advice and assist in putting government policy into practice.

Personal requirements 

  • Good at science
  • Able to analyse and solve problems 
  • Enjoy agriculture and/or the environment 
  • Able to make accurate observations 
  • Good oral and written communication skills 
  • Well organised with supervisory ability 
  • Able to work as part of a team.

Getting started

Find out more about a career in agricultural science:

AG Institute Australia
Email: admin@aginstitute.com.au 
Tel: (02) 9431 8657

Agriculture Victoria
Tel: 136 186

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).