Agriculture Specialist

Agriculture specialists provide assistance and advice to farmers and livestock producers. They consult on a number of areas, including crop choice and rotation, cultivation and harvesting, soil and water issues, and animal husbandry and nutrition. Agriculture specialists often specialize in a specific area, for example animal science, economics, agricultural mechanics, soil science, or field crops. Agriculture specialists work closely with farmers and livestock producers to ensure the success of their businesses.

At a Glance

Imagine standing at the front of a noisy school gymnasium packed full of area farmers. In a few minutes, you and your team will begin your presentation of a long-awaited report on agriculture in this district and steps that will be taken to improve local growing conditions. As a senior agricultural specialist in this area, you already know most of these farmers, having spent years working with them and giving advice on farm management. You know that the past few years have been tough on a lot of these men and women: abnormally dry summers and late frosts have killed a lot of crops in the area, and these people have turned to you and your team for advice on what they can do to prevent such losses in the future.

You know that weather can be unpredictable and no one can stop droughts and hail storms, but you hope that tonight's report will give these farmers some peace of mind knowing that steps can be taken to reduce the impact of these events and protect their crops. Your job is to advise farmers on different strategies they can use to maximize their yields. In this case, you have spent most of the last year meeting with farmers one-on-one to discuss how they can protect against drought and late-spring frosts. Your specialty is field crops and irrigation, and you have been reviewing with farmers the current irrigation system and how they use it, as well as the different crop varieties each farmer is planting.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an agriculture specialist:

  • Provide counselling and advisory services to farmers and livestock producers on production issues, for example cultivation, fertilization, harvesting, and animal care.
  • Prepare and conduct advisory information sessions and lectures for farmers and other relevant groups.
  • Conduct research and implement new technology and practices.
  • Analyze agricultural data and prepare research reports.
  • Liaise with researchers, educators, government departments, and business managers.
  • Maintain records of services provided and their results.
  • Promote mutual understanding and cooperation between government regulatory agencies and the agriculture community.
  • Educate farmers and agriculture business owners on understanding and complying with environmental pollution-control laws and regulations.
  • Recruit funds for the development and implementation of research.

Work Environment

Agriculture specialists work in a variety of locations, including:

In the lab:

  • Testing samples
  • Performing maintenance and repairing equipment

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, and the public
  • Researching new technology and advancements in agriculture

In the field:

  • Observing and inspecting crops, soils, and tree nurseries
  • Making presentations to farmers, livestock producers, and agriculture businesses
  • Responding to requests from clients

Where to Work

There are a number of places where agriculture specialists can find employment. They include:

  • Ranches and farms
  • Producer, research, and breed associations
  • Colleges and universities
  • Federal, provincial/ territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Agricultural, biological, and environmental consulting firms
  • Companies that manufacture and/or sell agricultural equipment and material
  • Self-employed consultant
  • Veterinary practices and agri-business firms

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an agriculture specialist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Economics

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an agriculture specialist is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an agriculture specialist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Agronomy
  • Soil Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Renewable Resource Management
  • Land Reclamation
  • Agriculture
  • Horticulture

Most agriculture specialists must be certified nationally through the Agricultural Institute of Canada. In some cases, an agriculture specialist must also be eligible for membership in a professional association.

Education and Skills

Therese Tompkins

Growing up on a farm on southern Alberta’s dry, windy prairies, Therese Tompkins was exposed to the concept of sustainable agriculture. She recalls: "You’d see the soil blow away and you’re going…okay, there’s got to be a better way.” It was her father who showed her the better way by being one of the first farmers in the region to practise minimum tillage, which is a form of sustainable agriculture.

Through this, Therese realized, "You have no control over how the wind blows, but you do have control over the crops that you plant, when you plant them, how you harvest them, and the equipment you put on the crops.” Today, with a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture, Therese educates Alberta farmers about the variety of sustainable agriculture techniques available. She is an agricultural specialist working for the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan Company.

Therese says her work is critical to the future of the industry in her province. "That’s how I see our industry succeeding…because we’re being proactive…we’re being leading edge…as well as keeping our resources healthy for the next generation.” Therese conveys this message in what she calls her fieldwork: dozens of presentations to hundreds of farmers and agricultural and environmental professionals across the province throughout the year. There’s nothing she enjoys more than "inspiring people to get involved or consider sustainable agriculture as something for their operation.”

Sometimes her message isn’t well received. When she encounters hostility or resistance, Therese tries to "think of it from their perspective as well. Why are they so adamant about the position they are presenting? What can we take from that?” As an agricultural specialist, Therese says she will never grow tired of her job because "it’s about learning people’s perspectives and why things are important to them.”

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Occupational Classification

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