Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products. Duties range from typical agricultural labor with added record keeping duties to laboratory testing with significant amounts of office work, depending on the specific field the technician works in.

Duties

Specific duties of these technicians vary, depending on their specialty.

Agricultural science technicians typically do the following:

  • Follow protocols to prepare, analyze, and properly store crop or animal samples
  • Operate farm equipment and maintain agricultural production areas to conform to scientific testing parameters
  • Examine animals and other specimens to determine the presence of diseases or other problems
  • Measure ingredients used in testing of animal feed and for other purposes
  • Compile and analyze test results that go into charts, presentations, and reports
  • Prepare and operate complex equipment to perform laboratory tests

Food science technicians typically do the following:

  • Collect and prepare samples following established procedures
  • Test food, food additives, and food containers to ensure they comply with established safety standards
  • Help food scientists with food research, development, and quality control
  • Analyze chemical properties of food to determine ingredients and formulas
  • Compile and analyze test results that go into charts, presentations, and reports
  • Prepare and maintain quantities of chemicals needed to perform laboratory tests
  • Keep a safe, sterile laboratory environment

Agricultural science technicians who work in private industry typically focus on increasing the productivity of crops and animals. These workers may keep detailed records, collect samples for analyses, ensure that samples meet proper safety and quality standards, and test crops and animals for disease or to otherwise confirm scientific experiment results.

Food science technicians who work in private industry typically inspect food and crops during processing to ensure products are fit for distribution or to investigate ways to improve efficiency. Many food science technicians spend time inspecting foodstuffs, chemicals, and additives to determine whether they are safe and have the proper combination of ingredients.

Agricultural and food science technicians often specialize by subject area. Some popular subjects include carbon management and sequestration, microbiology, and processing technology.

Agricultural and food science technicians who work for the federal government monitor regulatory compliance for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture, and other agencies. With the recent passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the frequency of food inspections is expected to increase, along with improvements in performance standards. The FSMA also requires more inspections of foreign food production facilities that export to the United States, so some agricultural and food science technicians may travel internationally.

Work Environment: 

Agricultural and food science technicians held about 25,900 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most agricultural and food science technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Food manufacturing 26%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 19
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 17
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 8
Animal production and aquaculture 7

Technicians work in a variety of settings including laboratories, processing plants, farms and ranches, and offices. Technicians who work in processing plants and agricultural work settings may face noise from processing and farming machinery, extreme temperatures, and odors from chemicals or animals.

Work Schedules

Agricultural and food science technicians typically work full time and have standard work schedules. Some of these technicians work more than standard full-time schedules, have variable schedules, or travel extensively.

Education and Training: 

Agricultural and food science technicians typically need an associate’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field. Some positions may require a bachelor’s degree. For those positions that need only a high school diploma, technicians typically need to have previous work experience. Technicians typically need on-the-job training that may cover topics such as production techniques, personal hygiene, and sanitation procedures.

Education

Students interested in this occupation should take as many high school science and math classes as possible. A solid background in applied chemistry, biology, physics, math, and statistics is important. Knowledge of how to use spreadsheets and databases is also typically necessary.

Agricultural and food science technicians typically need an associate’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field from an accredited college or university. Some agricultural and food science technician positions require a bachelor’s degree. While in college, prospective technicians learn through a combination of classroom and hands-on learning, such as internships.

Some agricultural and food science technicians successfully enter the occupation with a high school diploma but typically need related work experience and on-the-job training that may last a year or more. 

A background in the biological sciences is important for agricultural and food science technicians. Students may find it helpful to take courses in biology, chemistry, animal science, and agricultural engineering as part of their programs. Many schools offer internships, cooperative-education, and other programs designed to provide hands-on experience and enhance employment prospects.

Training

Agricultural and food science technicians typically undergo on-the-job training. Various federal government regulations outline the types of training needed for technicians, and it varies according to the work environment and specific job requirements. Training may cover topics such as production techniques, personal hygiene, and sanitation procedures.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Agricultural and food science technicians must conduct a variety of observations and on-site measurements, all of which require precision and accuracy.

Communication skills. Agricultural and food science technicians must be able to understand and give clear instructions, keep detailed records, and occasionally may need to write reports.

Critical-thinking skills. Agricultural and food science technicians reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve food quality and must test products for a variety of safety standards.

Interpersonal skills. Agricultural and food science technicians need to work well with others. They may supervise agricultural and food science workers and receive instruction from scientists or specialists, so effective communication is critical.

Physical stamina. Agricultural and food science technicians who work in manufacturing or agricultural settings may need to stand for long periods, lift objects, and generally perform physical labor.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Workers who enter positions in the occupation with only a high school education often have years of experience in a related occupation during which they develop their scientific knowledge of agriculture or manufacturing.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for agricultural and food science technicians was $34,070 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,410, and the top 10 percent earned more than $53,460.

Agricultural and food science technicians typically work full time and have standard work schedules. Some of these technicians work more than standard full-time schedules, have variable schedules, or travel extensively.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of agricultural and food technicians is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. More technology and scientific knowledge related to food production will allow greater control of the production and processing activities and in turn increase demand for these workers. Continued population growth will drive the need to increase efficiency of production and processing methods. More awareness and enforcement of food safety regulations will increase inspection requirements, which, in turn, will increase the need for agricultural and food science technicians.

For More Information: 

For more information about agricultural and soil science occupations, including certification, visit

American Society of Agronomy

Soil Science Society of America

For more information about food and animal science occupations, including certifications, visit

American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists

American Society of Animal Science

Institute of Food Technologists

For information from related governmental agencies, visit

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Food and Drug Administration

Smithsonian Institute

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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