Career & Education

Ever thought of becoming a food/agricultural scientist?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

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If you've ever explored the ways flavours combine to create a new taste, or thought of ways to increase the shelf life of certain foods, a career in food science could be for you.

But those aren't the only two options available. Among other things, food scientists:

• Conduct research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of field crops and farm animals

• Create new food products and develop new and better ways to process, package, and deliver them

• Study the composition of soil as it relates to plant growth, and research ways to improve it

• Communicate research findings to the scientific community, food producers, and the public

• Travel between facilities to oversee the implementation of new projects

Types of food and and agricultural scientists

Animal scientists typically conduct research on domestic farm animals in order to develop efficient ways of producing and processing meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. They explore animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, growth and development, and may crossbreed animals to make them more productive or to improve other characteristics. They advise farmers on how to upgrade housing for animals, lower animal death rates, increase growth rates, or otherwise increase the quality and efficiency of livestock.

Food scientists and technologists use chemistry, biology, and other sciences to study the basic elements of food. They analyse the nutritional content of food, discover new food sources, and research ways to make processed foods safe and healthy. Food technologists generally work in product development, applying findings from food science research to develop new or better ways of selecting, preserving, processing, packaging, and distributing food. Some food scientists use nanotechnology — problem-solving techniques that work on an atomic scale — to develop sensors that can detect contaminants in food. Other food scientists enforce government regulations, inspecting food-processing areas to ensure that they are sanitary and meet waste management standards.

Soil scientists examine the composition of soil, how it affects plant or crop growth, and how alternative soil treatments affect crop productivity. They develop methods of conserving and managing soil that farmers and forestry companies can use. Because soil science is closely related to environmental science, people trained in soil science also work to ensure environmental quality and effective land use.

Plant scientists work to improve crop yields and advise food and crop developers about techniques that could enhance production. They may develop ways to control pests and weeds.

Where they work

As a food scientist, you can work in the private food production industry, with the federal government, or at universities and other research instituions..

Agricultural and food scientists in private industry, for example, commonly work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They typically improve inspection standards or overall food quality. They spend their time in laboratories, where they conduct tests and experiments, or in the field, where they take samples or assess overall conditions. Other agricultural and food scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, where they use biotechnology processes to develop drugs or other medical products. Some look for ways to process agricultural products into fuels, such as ethanol produced from corn.

At universities, they do research and investigate new methods of improving animal or soil health, nutrition, and other facets of food quality. They also write grants to organisations to get funding for their research.

In the federal government, agricultural and food scientists conduct research on animal safety and on methods of improving food and crop production. They spend most of their time conducting clinical trials or developing experiments on animal and plant subjects. They eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.

Training required

Whatever path a food scientist chooses, a bachelor's degree in food science is the first step. Research positions require master's degrees in nutrition or dietetics, and a doctoral degree may be required to reach the senior research level. Those wishing to concentrate in the agricultural field as a professional soil scientist or crop adviser may benefit from soil and/or agrononomy certification after earning a bachelor's degree.

Students can take courses in chemistry, biology, and computer technology to prepare for a career as a food scientist where they may expect to earn a median salary of US$62,920, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The field has an expected growth rate of five per cent up to 2024.

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