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Detailed Guide for

   Soil and Plant Scientists in California

May also be called: Agroecologists; Agronomists; Agronomy Research Managers; Crop Nutrition Scientists; Pedologists; Physical Hydrologists; Plant Breeders; Plant Ecologists; Plant Scientists; Research Soil Scientists; Soil Chemists; Soil Fertility Extension Specialists; Soil Microbiologists; Soil Scientists

What Would I Do?

Soil and Plant Scientists* work to make sure that the soils in which crops are planted and where people live and work are stable, fertile, and free from pollution.

Soil Scientists study, evaluate, and analyze soils to get information for agricultural production and management of natural ecosystems. They also do this to understand how soil and soil conditions affect the environment and human health. The soil is not just the stuff in which plants grow. It is also where many interactions take place between living organisms, such as microbes, worms, centipedes and insects and bugs, plants, and fungi. These creatures interact under variable climatic and geological conditions. This zone of interaction is known as the "pedosphere", the top layer of the earth. It is the ground on which we walk.

Some Soil Scientists (pedologists) are interested in how to apply an understanding of the evolution of soils and how they work. They interpret its environmental history and predict the effects of changes in land use. For example, they study the effects of converting land never used before to agriculture. They may study the effects of soil use going from agriculture to manufacturing, or from manufacturing to residential use, and so on. Other Soil Scientists (soil chemists, soil physicists and soil microbiologists) approach the soil as a complex thing that helps get rid of pollution, stores water and nutrients and supports plant growth. Millions of years of geological and meteorological processes and thousands of years of plant cultivation have struck a very fragile balance. Soil Scientists work to maintain that balance to make sure the soil can be renewed and kept healthy. They work to keep the soil healthy and sustainable for agriculture. The work to ensure a safe and healthy foundation for human living, and the continued quality of our natural resources and ecosystems.

Plant Scientists study plants and the places where they grow. For example, they determine what varieties of crops are most helpful to produce human and livestock food, fibers for textiles, and fuels for vehicles and machines. They conduct studies to establish best practices and methods to conserve and renew natural resources.

Plant Scientists look for ways to improve the food value of crops and the quality of seed. They also study the ecology of plant communities and the biodiversity that is important for managing rangelands and forests. Some study the breeding, physiology, and management of crops and use genetic engineering to develop crops that are strong and can put up with bad weather. Agronomists study and put together crop management practices. Agroecologists study the ways in which crops can be improved by ecological processes and biodiversity. Some Plant Scientists develop technologies to fight pests and prevent their spread in ways that are not harmful to the environment. They also conduct research or oversee activities to halt the spread of disease caused by insects.

Tools and Technology

During the course of their work Soil and Plant Scientists may use such tools as hand augers, gel electrophoresis systems, laboratory grinders, digital pH meters, flame photometers and luminometers, ground penetrating radar, light detection and ranging LIDAR systems, synthetic aperture radar, calibrated soil scoops and soil augers, gamma ray and X ray fluorescence spectrometers, tensiometers, and polymerase chain reaction machines.

They may use technology involved in statistics software (SAS software, SPSS software), Variogram Estimation and Spatial Prediction plus Error Vesper, Water Erosion Prediction Project, WinSieve, PEDON Description Program, PedonCE, SoilVision, GIS software, ERDAS IMAGINE, and Microsoft Office software.

Green Economy

With the coming and the spread of sustainable agriculture and green biotechnology, more and more Soil and Plant Scientists are researching and developing environmentally friendly practices and technologies.

Interest in sustainable practices has focused attention on the production of fuels made from agricultural products. Some Plant Scientists, working together with biologists and chemists, are developing processes for turning crops into energy sources. These energy sources include such things as ethanol produced from plants. Other Soil and Plant Scientists are involved in new ways to manage plants and natural resources to protect the environment for a long time.

The green approach to agriculture will increase the use of nanotechnology, a recent technology expected to affect the work of Plant Scientists. Nanotechnology brings manufacturing down to the level of molecules and promises to completely change ways of making sure agricultural and other food products aren’t contaminated or spoiled. Some Plant Scientists are using nanotechnology to develop sensors that can quickly and accurately detect contaminating molecules in food.

Soil Scientists have been involved in green practices for some time and are expected to become more involved as the demand for green processes grows. Because soil science is related to environmental science, Soil Scientists also work to make sure the environment is healthy and that land is put to the best use. They provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners about the best use of land, plants to avoid, or to correct problems, such as erosion. They also work on remediation of polluted lands and water.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Soil and Plant Scientists work in areas closely related to the environmental sciences, and, because of this, most of the tasks they perform on an ordinary basis are green in some way. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners regarding ways in which they can best use land, promote plant growth, and avoid or correct problems such as erosion.Education and Training
Investigate responses of soils to specific management practices to determine the use capabilities of soils and the effects of alternative practices on soil productivity.Inductive Reasoning
Develop methods of conserving and managing soil that can be applied by farmers and forestry companies.Critical Thinking
Conduct experiments to develop new or improved varieties of field crops, focusing on characteristics such as yield, quality, disease resistance, nutritional value, or adaptation to specific soils or climates.Food Production
Study soil characteristics to classify soils on the basis of factors such as geographic location, landscape position, and soil properties.Deductive Reasoning
Develop improved measurement techniques, soil conservation methods, soil sampling devices, and related technology.Originality
Identify degraded or contaminated soils and develop plans to improve their chemical, biological, and physical characteristics.Information Ordering
Survey undisturbed and disturbed lands for classification, inventory, mapping, environmental impact assessments, environmental protection planning, and conservation and reclamation planning.Geography
Plan and supervise land conservation and reclamation programs for industrial development projects, and waste management programs for composting and farming.Time Management
Perform chemical analyses of the microorganism content of soils to determine microbial reactions and chemical mineralogical relationships to plant growth.Chemistry
Provide advice regarding the development of regulatory standards for land reclamation and soil conservation.Learning Strategies
Develop new or improved methods and products for controlling and eliminating weeds, crop diseases, and insect pests.Biology
Conduct research to determine best methods of planting, spraying, cultivating, harvesting, storing, processing, or transporting horticultural products.Active Learning
Consult with engineers and other technical personnel working on construction projects about the effects of soil problems and possible solutions to these problems.Speaking
Develop ways of altering soils to suit different types of plants.Category Flexibility
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Soil and Plant Scientists usually work in offices, laboratories, and classrooms. They may spend time outdoors while conducting research at farms and agricultural research stations. They typically work 40 hours per week.

Union membership is common for Soil and Plant Scientists working in institutions of higher learning. Those working in the University of California system may belong to The Council of UC Faculty Associations. Those who work in the California State University system or in many of the community colleges in California may be members of the California Faculty Association.

A number of Soil and Plant Scientists work in State government as Research Program Specialists with specializations in soil erosion and soil vegetation. Both of these jobs require education and training equivalent to a doctorate in philosophy (Ph.D.) in soil or plant science, and those in the job may belong to the Service Employees International Union, Local 1000.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Soil and Plant Scientist may appeal to those who enjoy work that involves practical, hands-on problems and solutions and dealing with plants and animals. At the same time, this job may appeal to those who like working with ideas, searching for facts, and figuring out problems mentally.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Soil and Plant Scientists in California is $67,839 annually, or $32.62 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$51,658$67,839$93,039
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Approximately one-third of all Soil and Plant Scientists work for either colleges or federal, State, or local government agencies. Because of this, their benefits are pretty much the same. In most cases, they get paid sick and vacation leave, lower-cost health insurance, and pensions and other retirement benefits.

What is the Job Outlook?

A good growth rate is expected for Soil and Plant Scientists mostly because of the growing efforts to increase the quality and quantity of food. Concerns over the health effects of certain foods have lead to research in the best methods of food production. Another reason is California’s strong commitment to enhanced protection of natural resources and to responding to climate change.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Soil and Plant Scientists is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Soil and Plant Scientists are expected to increase by 35.0 percent, or 700 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Soil and Plant Scientists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
2,0002,70070035.0700
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 70 new job openings per year is expected for Soil and Plant Scientists, plus an additional 70 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 140 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Soil and Plant Scientists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
7070140
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Soil Scientists need at least a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from an accredited university. At many universities, two choices are available for specialized training in soils. The soil science option prepares students to enter the agricultural field as farm advisors, crop consultants, soil and water conservationists, or as representatives of agricultural companies. The environmental soil science option prepares Soil Scientists for careers in environmental positions dealing with water quality concerns, remediation of contaminants or for on-site evaluation of soil properties in construction, waste disposal, or recreational facilities.

Plant Scientists need at least a B.S. degree for most jobs. Students preparing for careers as Plant Scientists should take college courses in plant pathology, entomology, plant physiology, plant ecology, and biochemistry. For both Soil and Plant Scientists, a Ph.D. usually is needed for college teaching and senior research positions.

Early Career Planning

High school classes should include biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Enrolling in horticulture and plant agriculture courses, if available in high school, would be good. Basic computer courses, communications, and introductory statistics are also helpful.

Continuing Education

Certifications in agronomy and crop advising issued by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) are maintained through continuing education as are certifications for Soil Scientists and soil classifiers that are issued by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). Once certified by the ASA or SSSA, Soil and Plant Scientists must earn 40 hours of continuing education (CEUs) every two years.

Certification

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) certifies Soil and Plant Scientists as agronomists and crop advisors. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) certifies Soil Scientists and soil classifiers. Certification is voluntary, but can help to broaden skills and improve job opportunities.

Certification in agronomy requires a B.S. in agronomy or a related field and five years of experience. It also requires a Master of Science degree (M.S.) and three years, or a Ph.D. and one year. Crop advising certification requires either four years of experience or a B.S. in agriculture and two years of experience. To get certification in soil science or soil classification, applicants must have a B.S. in soil science and five years of experience or a graduate degree and three years of experience. For any of these certifications, applicants must also pass exams and agree to obey a code of ethics.

For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Agriculture, Agronomy, Horticulture, Plant, and Soil
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Soil and Plant Scientists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Management & Technical Consulting Svc 33.4%
Scientific Research and Development Svc 22.1%
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting 13.6%
Federal Government 7.6%
Local Government 7.0%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Newspaper ads also have job leads. State, county, city, and federal personnel administration offices provide announcements of jobs and requirements. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Soil and Plant Scientists.

  • Agricultural Biotechnology
  • Agricultural Consultants
  • Agricultural Engineers
  • Agricultural Research & Education
  • Soil Analysis & Testing Laboratories
  • Soil Conservation Services
  • Soil Consultants
  • Soil Scientists
  • Soil Testing Services

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Soil and Plant Scientists who have advanced degrees qualify for research or teaching positions. With experience, they may advance to jobs as supervisors of research programs or managers of other activities related to agriculture.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Soil and Plant Scientists with links to more information.

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Animal ScientistsProfile
Biochemists and BiophysicistsGuide
Biological ScientistsProfile
Conservation ScientistsProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification19-1013
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Soil and Plant Scientists19-1013.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRA
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Agriculture, General 010000
   Agricultural Production Operations, Other 010399
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Agriculture Technology and Sciences, Gen010100
   Viticulture, Enology, and Wine Business010400