Soil and plant scientists work in the agricultural field studying the different compositions of soil and the effect they have on plant life, crops, and the national food supply. Some soil and plant scientists work directly in the field, while others work in test kitchens developing new ways to process foods. By studying the characteristics of yielding crops, how they grow in different soils, how to control pests, and the general chemical, biological, and physical makeup of the ground and plants, soil and plant scientists work to increase the national production of food as the need and population grows.
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Soil and plant scientists research the composition of soil to see how they affect plant growth. They study the breeding and cultivating of plants, as well as the yield that crops produce at the end of the growing season. They research the reaction of soil and crops to alternative methods of growing plants such as genetic modification. Scientists study the different characteristics of soil based on where it is located and the minerals in the soil, as well as what living organisms reside in the soil and how they impact production.
Another job done by soil and plant scientists is investigating contamination in soil and groundwater, and finding ways to change the characteristics of the contaminated area – physically, chemically or biologically.
Soil and plant scientists take their findings and give information to food growers regarding the ways they can best use their land, and what crops are best suited to be grown on the property. They survey land that has not been developed and aid in deciding whether it should become classified as conservation land. Soil and plant scientists supervise land conservation projects, as well as waste management programs for farms including composting. Scientists also alter soil types to grow different types of plants in environments where they may not naturally occur.
In recent years, soil and plant scientists have had a very important role in determining the causes of bee diseases. Bees are crucial to the agricultural system, and with a rapid decline in bee activity, soil and plant scientists were called in to solve the mystery of their demise and to once again increase the production of pollen. Scientists must study the areas where both useful insects and pests can be found, and where they avoid so the infestation of injurious insects can be contained and kept away from crops.
Soil and plant scientists’ positions are filled by individuals that have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a natural science. These degrees can be in fields such as chemistry, biology, or agriculture. Many of these jobs require graduate level education. For example, many jobs in the research industry require a PhD, JD, or MD.
While some soil and plant scientists’ positions are entry-level, many employers seek professionals with more than five years of on-the-job experience. This is similar to the medical field where doctors and surgeons must complete a four-to-five year residency in order to be able to properly do their jobs. Many companies within the scientific field want their employees to have as much education and work experience because there is little room for error in these positions.
Soil and plant scientists will receive some formal training on the job, but most employers will hire people they feel already have a great deal of knowledge surrounding their tasks and responsibilities on the job. When companies hire experienced soil and plant scientists, they can assume the scientists already have the skills, experience and knowledge they need to properly complete their work.
Soil and plant scientists should possess an extensive skill set in the areas of science, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, time management, and reading. They should be able to use logic and reasoning to solve problems and answer questions, as well as being able to draw educated conclusions based on what they know. Knowledge of mathematical formulas to solve their problems is an absolute must, as is the ability to understand directions, information, and ideas that are presented to them verbally by superiors and other team members. They must have a widespread knowledge base in the areas of biology, physics, chemistry, math, English, computers, and geography.
The workplace of a plant and soil scientist will vary depending on the field they are employed in. Many spend regular hours (9-5) on the job working in laboratories or offices in the field of applied research. Soil and plant scientists that work with foods may spend their work hours in kitchens dedicated to testing and discovering new food processing methods. Scientists who work strictly with soil and crops will spend a great deal of time outside gathering samples for research on farms and other agricultural properties.
The workplace is a team environment with many scientists working together to develop new techniques as well as improve existing products and techniques within their field.
Soil and plant scientists employed by private sector companies earn a salary that falls between $35,000 and $107,500, with the average salary at approximately $60,000. Public sector scientists who work for entities such as the government make an average salary of $80,000 per year.