When we think about a career in agriculture, we imagine a farmer working in the field, or riding a tractor. In today’s age of technology, it’s not always like that. Agriculture is a big industry, and most of the careers are related to science and/or business. The agriculture industry plays a major role in the Indian economy by contributing approximately 15-20% of the GDP (Sources: IBEF & WebIndia123). Hence, if you have the passion, skills and knowledge, there are several opportunities.
The study of agriculture is called agricultural science or agricultural technology. The field combines the natural and social sciences, along with economics, engineering and management (particularly natural resources management and business management) of biological systems to practice, development and understand the fields of agriculture and forestry. Being related to the field of Life & Biological Sciences, agricultural science is multidisciplinary and inter-related to Food Science & Technology. Agricultural Science uses the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and statistics to solve the problems of agriculture-food industry. But, students also need to study economics and business management at the undergraduate level.
With a degree in agricultural science, you can have careers in the agricultural sector. Major domains within the agricultural sector include agribusiness, R&D organizations, public and private agencies, government and policy making agencies, and private consulting companies. Agricultural science involves research and development on production, processing, productivity of crops and end products for consumers. Agricultural science professionals play a vital role towards maintaining food supply of the society. Major activities include improving the quality and quantity of farming, improving crop yield, minimizing labour, conservation of soil and water, and pest control.
Major Areas and Scientific (R&D) Career Options Within Agricultural Science
The major four broad areas under agricultural sciences are food science, plant science, soil science and animal science.
Food science combines the fundamentals of biochemistry, physical sciences and chemical engineering to study the physical, chemical and biological nature of food items. The field of food science and technology deals with the manufacturing, processing, treatment, preservation, and distribution of food. The objective of the field is to understand the principles of food processing and to improve the food quality for the general public. Read more about Careers in Food Science and Technology.
Students specializing in plant science study plant growth, reproduction, evolution and adaptation. Plant science professionals deal with agronomy (scientific management of soil and crop production), environmental science, plant breeding, and entomology (study of insects). Plant Science is very closely associated with soil science and plant biotechnology.
Plant biotechnology is itself a very exciting area of specialization with excellent career prospects. Plant biotechnology can be explained as the introduction of desirable traits into plants through genetic modification (transgenic biotechnology). Plant biotechnologists conduct research and development to increase the productivity and yield. One of the key objectives of plant biotechnology is creating reliable and sustainable food sources for the global mass. Plant scientists (and biotechnologists) apply sophisticated biochemical and genetic technologies to improve the nutritional value of crops and quality of seeds used to grow them. Besides, plant biotechnologists also work towards making crops resistant to droughts, diseases and other adversities. Last but not the least, plant biotechnology has also got significant applications in medical research.
Soil science is another important area within the broad field of agricultural science, and very inter-related to plant science. Soil science is a multi-discplinary field with applications in agricultural science, environmental science and earth sciences. Soil science deals with the studies of soil formation, soil classification, soil mapping, soil properties (physical, biological & chemical), soil fertility, soil erosion, and soil management.
Within the agriculture domain (also termed as Agricultural Soil Science), soil scientists primarily study the impact of soil composition on plant growth, and how various types of soils respond to fertilizers and crop rotation. The objective is to maximize the land usage and plant growth and productivity. Soil scientists can also find career opportunities in ecology-related roles. You can also find employment within the construction industry, and work with landscape architects to address soil related problems like drainage and erosion.
Animal science in simple terms, is the study of biology of the animals that are under the control of the mankind – livestock species like sheep, cow, cattle, pigs, poultry, horses etc. Within the agricultural space, animal scientists deal with the biological, physical and social sciences to address the problems associated with livestock production and management. Animal science also deals with food items of animal origin, such as meat, fish and dairy food items (eggs, milk etc.). Last but not the least, animal scientists and professionals are also responsible of taking care of the nutrition, safety and well-being of the animals. Animal scientists also employ biotechnology to study the genetics, nutrition, reproduction, growth and development of the livestock animals. The key objective is to improve the the production and processing of food items of animal origin, without jeopardizing the well-being and safety of the animals.
Business & Management Roles within the Agricultural Sector
The agriculture sector is not only about scientific research and development. There are various roles for students with business backgrounds as well. Almost half of all the professionals within the agricultural sector have got business related roles. Whether you are from science or commerce background, you can go for non-scientific roles such as marketing, technical sales, merchandising, economists, accountants, finance managers, commodity traders, and communication & education (social services). If for some reason, you want to do something outside the agriculture and food sector, you can always switch to textiles and fibre sectors as well.
Career Scope of Agricultural Science & Technology in India
India is one of the largest producers of vegetables, fruits and flowers in the world, and also a leading global leader in agriculture. A major part of the Indian economy is driven by agriculture. Over 58% of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. India is one of the largest exporters of agricultural commodities such as spices, flowers, mushrooms, oilseeds, milk, rice, food grains and other vegetables. More importantly, the society needs food, and hence agriculture will always be a lucrative career option.
India is the largest producer of milk, second-largest of sugar, leading producer of coconut and spices. Spice exports from India have been estimated at USD 3 billion by 2016-2017. The spice market in India valued approximately at INR 40,000 crore (USD 5.87 billion) annually, of which the branded segment accounts for 15% only. Whereas, the Indian agrochemical industry is expected to reach USD 6.3 billion by 2020.
The Indian government is also backing up the agriculture sector very strongly. The 2016-17 budget was a clear indication. Even the 2017-18 Union Budget pitched for more reforms in agriculture marketing and increased funds for insurance and irrigation schemes (Source:LiveMint). Agriculture credit has been raised to a record INR 10 Lakh Crore (Source: The Indian Express). Besides the Government, private bodes and foreign investors are also showing great interest in the Indian agricultural industry. As per the official reports of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the Indian agricultural sector has attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) equity inflow of about USD 2.8 billion from April 2000 to March 2016 (Source: Govt. Of India). So, the future is definitely bright if you want to pursue a career in Agriculture.
Scope for Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Agricultural Sector in India
It is true the the Indian agricultural sector is facing some serious challenges as well. But, challenges mean there are more than enough opportunities. There are evidences as well. Several startups and entrepreneurs are coming up within the agricultural sector. Read about the Entrepreneurs and Innovation in Indian Agriculture, Top 10 Agri-Tech Social Enterprises in India, and Four Major Areas of Innovation in Indian Agriculture. Hence, if you are from science and/or business background, want to do something good for the society, and have got the entrepreneurial creature in you, then the agricultural sector is for you.
Career Scope Abroad for Agricultural Science & Technology
The career scopes in foreign countries like US, Australia, New Zealand and few European countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway are excellent. Between 2015 and 2020, the US expects to see 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in agricultural science and related disciplines. According to the USDA projections, almost half of the opportunities will be in the business and management domains. Around 27% will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Jobs in sustainable food and biomaterials production will make up 15%, while 12% of the openings will be in education, communication, and governmental services. Below is a schematic about the employment opportunities in Agriculture sector in the US (Source: Oregon State University).
Pay Scale and Salary Structures for Agricultural Science Professionals
Freshers with a Bachelor degree (B.Sc. Or B.Tech.) can expect s starting month salary of INR 18,000 to 25,000. However, the salary structure depends a lot on the job role, skill portfolio and the graduating university or institute. As a serious drawback for the Life Sciences (or Biological Sciences) domain, the starting salary for fresh graduates could be as low as INR 9,000 per month, within the Government sector. But, don’t get discouraged by that; it also happens with fresh graduates (with mediocre profile) from engineering background, and even fresh MBA graduates. Govt. Jobs have got other benefits as well. The good thing is there are lot of job opportunities. More importantly, the remuneration is quite attractive once you have 2 – 3 years of experience under your belt. With 4 – 6 years of work experience, you can earn INR 6 – 10 Lacs per annum.
Higher education (Masters or PhD) always helps for any stream within Biological Sciences. This also opens up various job opportunities within the academia with handsome pay packages, along with great work-life balance. Master degree holders can expect an average starting salary of INR 3.6 Lacs. With 4 – 6 years of industrial experience, the pay package could be INR 9 – 16 Lacs per year. Research professionals within the academic setups can earn in the range of INR 55,000 to 80,000 per month.