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What is an Agronomy Degree?
Agronomists, also known as crop scientists, are the link between the research community that studies crops and the farming community. They understand the genetic, biological, environmental, and economic impacts of agricultural processes. They are the experts that farmers turn to when their crops begin to fail.
Agronomists may spend hours examining a failing crop, looking for signs of what is killing the plants – is it a disease, an insect, a weed, or a problem in the soil? Degree programs in agronomy prepare students to answer questions like these, to be the next generation of experts in the relationships between crops and the soils they depend on.
Bachelor’s Degree in Agronomy – Four Year Duration
Most bachelor’s programs in agronomy emphasize hands-on learning. Students gain experience in both the laboratory and in the field, working closely with agronomy professors, who are leaders in their research areas. Many schools offer opportunities for summer internships and/or semester-abroad programs. The bachelor’s degree is the most common degree held by agronomists.
Here is a snapshot of core undergrad courses in agronomy:
- Global Agriculture in a Changing World – the global distribution of climate, soils, and agricultural production and consumption; physical processes that connect natural resources to agriculture and the environment; how global change drives increasing demand for agricultural production
- Introduction to Crop Science – the structure and function of plants, their origin and classification, their growth and development; basics of photosynthesis, plant water use, plant nutrition and genetics that regulate plant growth and responses to the environment
- Introduction to Soil Science – the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils; soil formation, classification, and global distribution; soils health, soils and sustainable land management
- Basic Skills for Agronomists – tools and methodologies used by agronomists in their work with crops, soil, and the environment
- Introduction to Weather and Climate – weather and climate fundamentals: atmospheric measurements, radiation, stability, precipitation, winds, fronts, forecasting, and severe weather; global warming, ozone depletion, world climates, and weather safety
- Agronomy Career Planning – resume and cover letter writing, interview preparation
- Field Exploration of Agronomy – field-based survey of local area’s soils and crops
- Crop Development, Production, and Management – crops and cropping systems in global and US agriculture; agronomic principles, challenges, and opportunities as they apply to local, national, and international locations
- Crop Physiology – the science of plant growth and development; cropping and genetic improvements
- Soil Conservation and Land Use – best management practices and use of soils maps and databases such as Web Soil Survey
- Agronomy Internship – a supervised learning experience in a professional setting related to crop production, plant breeding, soil science, or environmental science
- Crop Structure-Function Relationships – the growth, development, and production of crop communities in relation to their environment
- World Food Issues: Past and Present – ethical, social, economic, environmental, and policy issues surrounding global agricultural and food systems; exploration of overnutrition, undernutrition, poverty, hunger, access, and distribution
- Soils and Plant Growth with Laboratory – effects of chemical, physical, and biological properties of soils on plant growth; nutritive elements, pH, organic matter maintenance, and rooting development
- Environmental Soil Science – soil science from the perspective of environmental problems, environmental quality, and land development
- Agronomy Senior Forum – professional certification, ethics, and lifelong learning
Master’s Degree in Agronomy – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, student can often choose between a thesis program and a non-thesis program. The thesis option is composed of coursework and proposal and defense of a thesis. Students who select the non-thesis option must complete more extensive coursework, a research paper, and a comprehensive examination. Both the thesis and non-thesis tracks are research focused. It is common for schools to offer agronomy graduate students opportunities to apply for research assistant roles with faculty scientists.
Here are some examples of research projects in the areas of production of food and fiber crops and decreasing environmental impacts:
- Agronomics, New Crops, Genetics, and Plant Improvement
- Cotton Breeding and Research
- Environmental Plant Physiology
- Environmental Soil Chemistry / Mineralogy
- Environmental Soil Management
- Feed Grains (Corn) Production
- Forage Pasture Crops
- Global Climate Change and Impacts
- Remote Sensing Applications
- Soil and Plant Nutrient Management
Agronomists often pursue professional certifications offered by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) and the Soil Science Society of America. The three certifications available are:
- Certified Crop Adviser (CCA)
- Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg)
- Certified Professional Soil Scientist / Classifier (CPSS)
Degrees Similar to Agronomy
Agricultural engineering is the branch of engineering concerned with the design of farm machinery, the location and planning of farm structures, farm drainage, soil management and erosion control, water supply and irrigation, rural electrification, and the processing of farm products.
Degree programs in this discipline teach students about one or more aspects of general agriculture. Coursework may cover topics like farm management, crop science, animal husbandry, agriculture technology, soil science, and food distribution.
Botany is the study of the physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification, and economic importance of plants. Degree programs in the field include courses in biochemistry, microbiology, photosynthesis, and plant evolution.
The subject matter of food science degree programs spans the areas of biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. Students learn how to apply these foundations to examine food properties and develop foods that are sustainable.
Forestry degree programs teach students how to conserve and manage forests through sustainable practices. This means the curriculum covers both preserving biodiversity, as well as producing wood products in ecologically responsible ways. Classes also address contemporary issues like climate change, carbon management, and how to plan and manage urban forests or green spaces in metropolitan areas.
Degree programs in this field teach the science and art of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, and/or ornamental plants. Horticulture students learn about plant biology and nutrition, soil science, and greenhouse and nursery management.
Hydrology is about the active nature of water, the movement of precipitation. Hydrologists study surface waters like rivers, lakes, and streams and examine how rainfall and snowfall cause erosion, generate caves, and permeate soil and rock to become groundwater or flow to oceans and seas. Students of hydrology study these and other aspects of the field. They learn about water management methods, land use, environmental issues, and how to collect water data, interpret statistics, conduct computer modeling, and use geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS).
Meteorology degree programs teach students how to predict weather conditions. The typical curriculum examines atmospheric movement, climate trends, and ozone levels. With an understanding of these concepts, students learn about various meteorological phenomena. They learn how to use statistical analysis to forecast weather events from sun, clouds, and rain to heat waves, droughts, thunderstorms, tropical storms, tornados, and hurricanes.
Soil science degree programs are focused on the formation, ecology, and classification of soil. Students take courses in seed science, fertilizers, geology, weed science, and genetics.
Skills You'll Learn
- Ability to communicate findings and results using models, graphs, and charts
- Ability to consider problems with a scientific approach / problem-solving
- Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
- Attention to detail
- Capacity to work in physically demanding environments and conduct fieldwork
- Critical analysis and evaluation / systems analysis
- Environmental sensitivity
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- Logical thinking
- Observation, research, and data collection
- Oral and written communication / report writing
- Project management
What Can You Do with an Agronomy Degree?
Because of the specific nature of agronomy, most graduates in the field work in roles that are directly related to their degree. Here are some of the common occupational categories:
- Agribusiness finance and insurance
- Agribusiness sales, and marketing / International agribusiness
- Agricultural chemical or fertilizer companies
- Agricultural extension with government departments or agencies – cooperative extension services and partnerships programs that teach farmers how to improve their productivity
- Agricultural research and teaching
- Crop biotechnology
- Crop consulting
- Crop management and protection
- Environmental protection / consulting
- Farm management
- Plant breeding and genetics
- Precision farming
- Seed and horticulture companies
- Soil and range conservation
- Yield forecasting
Possible positions / titles include:
- Agribusiness Consultant
- Agricultural Business Manager
- Agriculture Finance Representative
- Agribusiness Insurance Agent
- Agronomy Salesperson
- Commodity Risk Manager
- Cotton Specialist
- County Extension Director
- Crop Care Manager
- Certified Crop Consultant
- Extension Agent
- Extension Specialist
- Farm / Ranch Manager
- Farm Land Appraiser
- Grain Inspector
- Natural Resources Manager
- Soil and Plant Scientist
- Plant Breeder
- Plant Manager
- Range Management Specialist
- Scientific Support Analyst
- Seed Production Specialist
- Soil Conservationist
- Soil Management Specialist
- Soil Surveyor
- Weed Specialist
An agronomy major also provides an excellent foundation for graduate study in the biological sciences.
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