Students in agronomy and soil science programs learn to look at a field
and see the possibilities. They study the science behind agriculture.
Soil science is the study of the chemical, physical and biological properties
of soil. Agronomy is the study of the relationship between plant life and
Jane King is a professor of forage agronomy and physiology. She says soil
science is a more narrow field than agronomy. Soil science focuses on
things like soil chemistry, soil physics and soil hydrology. Agronomy looks
at all aspects of crop production.
Students learn how plants and soils work. They study ways to manipulate
plants to increase crop productivity. They also study pest management
and learn how to control insects, diseases and weeds.
"The students will also gain an understanding of crop ecology, sustainable
agriculture and biotechnology," says William Tracy. He is an agronomy
professor at the University of Wisconsin.
They also get hands-on training. "We strongly emphasize internships
and independent study, so actual hands-on skills will depend on the interest
of the student," says Tracy.
"Many students will work in the field in the summer and gain skills in
crop and pest management and farm machinery. They then will work in a laboratory
during the academic year and get hands-on experience in biotechnology and
molecular genetics," he adds.
Students will learn more than just science, King says. "They will understand
how crops fit into the agricultural system and how agriculture is influenced
by and influences the larger society," she says.
You'll need a strong background in math and science. "Biology, chemistry,
mathematics and English are essential. Physics would be nice," says King.
There are also extracurricular activities that will help you prepare for
this major. King recommends joining a 4-H program or environmental group.
In addition to tuition and books, there may be fees for the use of lab
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Agricultural
and Food Scientists
Soil Science Society of America
Find information for wise land use and more
Sustainable Agriculture Network
Working to make farming environmentally friendly
American Society of Agronomy
Information and resources dedicated to sustainable agriculture