An agricultural technician could...
|Determine germination yield for a new seed variety by planting and monitoring seeds in a test plot.||Collect samples from animals and crops to perform various experimental tests.|
|Perform experiments to determine how to stop the spread of a plant virus.||Maintain agricultural facilities and equipment to ensure safety and operational readiness.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||As the world's population grows larger, it is important to improve the quality and yield of food crops and animal food sources. Agricultural technicians work in the forefront of this very important research area by helping scientists conduct novel experiments. If you would like to combine technology with the desire to see things grow, then read further to learn more about this exciting career.|
|Key Requirements||Agricultural technicians must have the ability to recognize when a problem can and will arise, to recognize patterns in data sets, and have good reasoning ability|
|Minimum Degree||Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, algebra II, English; if available: computer science, applied technology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Most agricultural technicians need an associate degree or a certificate in applied science or science-related technology. Science technicians with a high school diploma and no college degree typically begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more-experienced technician, and eventually earn a 2-year degree in science technology.
Whatever their degree, agricultural technicians usually need hands-on training either in school or on the job. Most can get good career preparation through 2-year formal training programs that combine the teaching of scientific principles and theory with practical hands-on application in a laboratory setting with up-to-date equipment. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in science, who have considerable experience in laboratory-based courses, have completed internships, or have held summer jobs in laboratories, also are well qualified for science technician positions and are preferred by some employers.
Job candidates who have extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require a short period of on-the-job training. Those with a high school diploma and no college degree typically begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more-experienced technician. Many with a high school diploma eventually earn a 2-year degree in science technology, often paid for by their employer.
Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more-experienced technician. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors.
Education and Training
Agricultural technicians must have a high school degree, but at least 2 years of specialized training or an associate degree in applied science or science-related technology is preferred. Because employers' preferences vary, however, some science technicians have a bachelor's degree in chemistry or biology and have completed several science and math courses at a 4-year college.
Communication skills are important because technicians are often required to report their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, technicians should be able to work well with others. Because computers often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should also have strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are important as well, as are a high mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, and analytical thinking.
Nature of the Work
Agricultural technicians work with related scientists to conduct research, development, and testing on food and other agricultural products. Agricultural technicians are involved in food, fiber, and animal research, production, and processing. Some conduct tests and experiments to improve the yield and quality of crops or to increase the resistance of plants and animals to disease, insects, or other hazards. Other agricultural technicians breed animals for the purpose of investigating nutrition. The many responsibilities of the agricultural technician include analyzing, recording, and compiling test results; ordering supplies to maintain laboratory inventory; and cleaning and sterilizing laboratory equipment.
As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more complex, the role of agricultural technicians in research and development has expanded. In addition to performing routine tasks, many technicians, under the direction of scientists, now develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems. Technicians must develop expert knowledge of laboratory equipment so that they can adjust settings when necessary and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.
Agricultural technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Some work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Other positions require working outdoors and in remote locations. Occasionally, irregular hours are required to monitor experiments that cannot be completed during regular working hours.
Advances in automation and information technology require technicians to operate more-sophisticated laboratory equipment. Agricultural technicians make extensive use of computers, electronic measuring equipment, and traditional experimental apparatus.
Some agricultural technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials.
On the Job
- Receive and prepare laboratory samples for analysis, following proper protocols to ensure that they will be stored, prepared, and disposed of efficiently and effectively.
- Record data pertaining to experimentation, research, and animal care.
- Collect samples from crops or animals so testing can be performed.
- Prepare data summaries, reports, and analyses that include results, charts, and graphs to document research findings and results.
- Adjust testing equipment and prepare culture media, following standard procedures.
- Operate laboratory equipment such as spectrometers, nitrogen determination apparatus, air samplers, centrifuges, and potential hydrogen (pH) meters to perform tests.
- Measure or weigh ingredients used in testing or for purposes such as animal feed.
- Provide food and water to livestock and laboratory animals, and record details of their food consumption.
- Plant seeds in specified areas, and count the resulting plants to determine the percentage of seeds that germinated.
- Supervise pest or weed control operations including locating and identifying pests or weeds, selecting chemicals and application methods, scheduling application, and training operators.
- Measure and mark plot areas, and plow, disc, level, and otherwise prepare land for cultivated crops, orchards and vineyards.
- Conduct insect and plant disease surveys.
- Examine animals and specimens to determine the presence of diseases or other problems.
- Perform general nursery duties, such as propagating standard varieties of plant materials, collecting and germinating seeds, maintaining cuttings of plants, and controlling environmental conditions.
- Operate farm machinery, including tractors, plows, mowers, combines, balers, sprayers, earthmoving equipment, and trucks.
- Perform crop production duties, such as tilling, hoeing, pruning, weeding, and harvesting crops.
- Devise cultural methods and environmental controls for plants for which guidelines are sketchy or nonexistent.
- Maintain and repair agricultural facilities, equipment, and tools to ensure operational readiness, safety, and cleanliness.
- Provide routine animal care, such as taking and recording body measurements, applying identification, and assisting in the birthing process.
- Set up laboratory or field equipment, and prepare sites for testing.
- Transplant trees, vegetables, or horticultural plants.
- Supervise and train agricultural technicians and farm laborers.
- Prepare and present agricultural demonstrations.
- Respond to inquiries and requests from the public that do not require specialized scientific knowledge or expertise.
Companies That Hire Agricultural Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Juicy Project: Extracting Apple Juice with Pectinase
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- A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome
- Are Soil Microorganisms Important for Plant Health?
- Attack of the Killer Cabbage Clones
- Bacteria Can Fix It! A Comparison of Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria and Nitrogen Fertilizers
- Can Copper Foil Snails?
- Can Garlic Prevent Crown Gall?
- Can Mulch Reduce Garden Water Requirements?
- Chlorophyll Extraction
- Composting and Vermiculture
- Cryopreservation: Freezing Plant Tissues
- Disappearing Act: How Fast Do Different Biodegradable & Compostable Materials Decompose?
- Discovering DNA: Do Your Cheek Cells & a Strawberry Both Have DNA?
- Do Different Tree Species Grow at the Same Rate?
- Do Oranges Lose or Gain Vitamin C After Being Picked?
- Do-It-Yourself DNA
- Dust Busters: How No-Plow Farmers Try to Save Our Soil
- Earthworm Castings — The Ideal Proportion in Soil for Young Garden Plants
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Agricultural Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
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- Career Service. (2009). Science Technician: Horticultural Technician. Retrieved November 30, 2009, from http://www.careers.govt.nz/default.aspx?id0=1050103&id1=83B2D492-851F-4CA5-A168-FCE452D19CD1&id2=31F80FF1-0453-460D-84E4-8A364104338F
- Career Service. (2009). Science Technician: Life Sciences Technician. Retrieved November 30, 2009, from http://www.careers.govt.nz/default.aspx?id0=1050103&id1=83B2D492-851F-4CA5-A168-FCE452D19CD1&id2=44A55F4B-A9FE-4EB8-B5CC-76684AD46C9F
- State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (2007). Agricultural and Food Science Technicians. Retrieved November 30, 2009, from http://web1.dol.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/cv.mov?carvidFileName=b_19-4011.00-01.mpg