Imagine spending your days fighting world hunger, improving the environment, and supporting struggling independent farmers in their work. Those are the kinds of big-picture problems you could be solving with a career in sustainable agriculture.
With concerns about the health of the environment increasing around the world, innovative fields such as sustainable agriculture are more important than ever. If you’re interested in building a career in a growing field where you can make a meaningful impact on both the environment and economic equity, sustainable agriculture may be the right field for you.
A degree in sustainability can give you the tools you need to build a fulfilling career in applying and teaching others about the benefits of sustainable agriculture.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is an approach to plant and animal farming that focuses on sustainable processes. This includes:
- Using renewable resources whenever possible
- Finding creative ways to reuse resources that aren’t renewable
- Ensuring farms are economically healthy and profitable
- Prioritizing a high quality of life for farmers
- Planning for the growing food, feed, fiber, and fuel needs of the population
The goal of sustainable agriculture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is to preserve and improve the environment. Different aspects of sustainable agriculture work in tandem to create a healthier and more equitable world, both environmentally and economically.
A sustainable agriculture program aims to educate farmers and ranchers on how to implement sustainable farming practices. Facilitating the creation and execution of these programs can be complex and interesting work. It often involves encouraging farmers to change deeply rooted practices and adopt climate-friendly operations. This can include enacting healthy soil initiatives, using renewable resources, and addressing threats from pests and diseases without dangerous chemicals.
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture for Society and the Earth
A number of the far-reaching benefits of sustainable agriculture for farms, the environment, and communities align with the United Nations’ 2020 Sustainable Development Goals. For instance:
- Zero hunger. One major U.N. goal is to end world hunger by 2030. Sustainable agriculture ensures farmers and ranchers put resources to their best use, minimizing waste. The world can achieve zero hunger by combining sustainable agriculture efforts with a global coordination to distribute food more equitably.
- Clean water and sanitation. To provide clean water and sanitation to communities around the world, pollution levels must be drastically cut. Sustainable agriculture encourages renewable energy sources whenever possible, along with pest control measures that are safe for the planet. As more farms embrace sustainable agriculture, these efforts can have a big impact on pollution and the environment. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the agriculture industry accounts for 80% to 90% of all water usage in the U.S., sustainable agriculture methods such as drip irrigation and dry farming help to curb water usage.
- Industries, innovation, and infrastructure. Sustainable agriculture plays a big role in implementing more energy-efficient and resource-efficient infrastructure for the farming industry. By prioritizing systems that lessen the negative impact on the environment, sustainable agriculture professionals can come up with . Some examples of sustainable agriculture innovations include advanced zero-tillage, crop rotation, and cover crop techniques, as well as the adoption of digital technologies for weather prediction and crop disease prevention.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition identifies three legs of sustainable agriculture: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. These three parts of sustainable agriculture integrate to create a healthier society and world.
What Does a Career in Sustainable Agriculture Look Like?
A career in sustainable agriculture offers the opportunity to work closely with farmers and food producers to promote sustainable agriculture benefits and practices. A number of possible jobs in the field are available:
- Conservation scientist. Conservation scientists protect land and implement sustainable harvesting and forestry practices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), conservation scientists’ median annual salary was $62,660 in May 2019.
- Agricultural manager. Agricultural managers oversee all aspects of running a farm. This includes supervising crop production, making decisions about equipment and property management, and maintaining budgets. Sustainable practices often fall under an agricultural manager’s supervision. Agricultural managers had a median salary of $71,160 in May 2019, according to BLS data.
- Agronomist (plant scientist). Agronomy can be an ideal field for those interested in the science of sustainable agriculture. Agronomists find unique ways to improve crop yields and protect plants from infestation. They fall under the category of agricultural and food scientists, who had a median annual wage of $65,160 in May 2019, according to the BLS.
There are also a number of careers in related sustainability fields:
- Climate change analyst. Climate change analysts are environmental scientists who study ecosystems and provide public education on how activities impact climate change. For instance, they may advise a firm to use certain chemicals that are less harmful to the environment. The BLS reports that environmental scientists as a whole had a median annual wage of $71,360 in May 2019.
- Sustainability coordinator. Sustainability coordinators often work in office settings, helping companies implement sustainable practices. According to PayScale, sustainability coordinators had a median salary of about $49,000 as of February 2021.
- Urban planner. Like sustainability coordinators, urban planners are involved in sustainability outside the agricultural setting. They meet with city planning officials to ensure sufficient land is allocated for green spaces and advocate for environmentally friendly practices. According to the BLS, urban planners had a median salary of $74,350 in 2019.
- Hydrologists study water and its relationship to the surrounding environment. They analyze supply and pollution levels and find innovative ways to conserve or filter water. The BLS reports that hydrologists had a median annual wage of $81,270 in 2019.
How to Build a Career in Sustainable Agriculture
The field of sustainable agriculture has many potential career paths, but what skills do you need to succeed? These skills can help you build a successful career in sustainable agriculture:
- Analytical skills. These are important for analyzing pollution levels, impacts on the environment, agricultural practices, and existing infrastructure.
- Problem-solving. Regardless of your specific job path, you’ll need to approach complex problems critically and creatively.
- Interpersonal skills. In many cases, you’ll facilitate and advocate for sustainable agriculture practices, which means collaborating with others and building relationships.
Alongside these skills, a passion for the environment is key for any sustainable agriculture job.
Many jobs in sustainable agriculture require a bachelor’s degree in sustainability, environmental science, or a related field. A degree in sustainability may include courses such as Ecosystem Studies, Climate Science, Sustainable Agriculture, and Economics of Sustainability, which can give you a good foundation of the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in the field of sustainable agriculture.
Some job titles may have more specific requirements. For instance:
- To become an agricultural manager, you may need to apprentice on a farm for several years (which you can often do concurrently with your degree). You may also need to be certified as an accredited farm manager (AFM) through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA).
- Conservation scientists often find that getting additional training in geographic information systems (GIS) technology and other kinds of computer modeling can be helpful.
- Most urban planners get a master’s degree in urban or regional planning before beginning their work in the field. Some positions may require additional certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
Begin Your Career in Sustainable Agriculture at Maryville
Addressing environmental and climate change concerns is crucial to humanity’s future. A career in sustainable agriculture is a rewarding way to make a real impact on the health of the planet and society, and the wide range of opportunities means there’s no better time to pursue a career in the field.
Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sustainability can prepare you for a rewarding career in sustainable agriculture. It can help you build the analytical and problem-solving skills you’ll need, while giving you a foundation of knowledge in environmental science, economics, conservation, social and cultural issues, and all the benefits of sustainable agriculture.
Take the brave first step toward a meaningful career in sustainable agriculture by learning more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sustainability.