Biotechnology, For More InformationEducation and Training, Salary, Outlook
You don't have to live on a farm to have an interest in agriculture. Today, agriculture means business—agribusiness—and new advances in the field affect every corner of the globe. Feeding the world's ever-expanding population is this century's most serious concern. Technology will play a major role in the agriculture of the future. Agribusiness involves every aspect of food—growing, processing, preserving, transporting, and distributing it. There are jobs for technicians in all of these areas.
Agriculture technicians work with foods, fibers, and animals. They may work for a pet food company trying to find a dog food that will eliminate “dog breath”; a textile company trying to discover a new synthetic all-weather fabric; a food company hoping to make the ultimate breakfast cereal, which is full of vitamins and better tasting than the other brands; a university lab developing a new strain of wheat; or with any of the hundreds of other companies and agencies in the industry.
If they work in a lab, agriculture technicians assist scientists in running experiments and keeping track of the results. As with all lab work, it is important to be deliberate, accurate, and impartial. Other agriculture technicians work in the field with scientists who are trying to improve the stock of cattle, pigs, chickens, and other domestic animals. Through choosing which animals can mate, they use selective breeding to strengthen a certain strain of animal or to make sure that certain characteristics will show up, such as thicker wool in sheep. Although they work with animals, agriculture technicians must maintain a scientific detachment and never forget that animals are a source of food and will be used in experiments.
Agricultural technicians who work in the field may do crop surveys to find out which seeds get the best results, or follow-up studies on techniques like hydroponic gardening (growing plants in a nutrient liquid without soil). They test herbicides and pesticides for both their usefulness and their toxicity, the tendency to overkill. They are frequently asked to help solve problems, to determine the cause of soil erosion on someone's farm, for instance, or to test the quality of groundwater. Wherever they work, they must keep accurate records of what they do and what they observe, reporting back to their employers in careful detail.
A good job for an agricultural technician who likes to travel and meet people is as a field representative for a company making farm implements or fertilizers. These technicians demonstrate new techniques and products.
In Canada, where there is an emphasis on sustainable (planet-friendly) agriculture, agricultural technicians are involved in restoring natural habitats by seeding grasses, planting trees as windbreaks, and revitalizing old soils.
Education and Training
Someone with an interest in agriculture should take biology, chemistry, and mathematics classes in high school. Some companies require no formal schooling beyond high school and offer to train new recruits on the job. Others prefer a year or two of further training in the life sciences, chemistry, or animal husbandry. Further education can be obtained online or through conferences and seminars pertaining to the field.
The salary for an agricultural technician depends on the job and employer. Those who go to work for a county extension agency can expect to start at about $14,000 per year. New employees with a strong science background who work for a large agribusiness could start at an annual salary as high as $30,000.
The outlook is very bright for agribusiness, as the pressure increases to find new sources of food for both humans and animals and new ways to produce and distribute food. Jobs for agricultural technicians will continue to be available at large food-processing companies, with research centers, and with federal, state, and county governments.
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