Agrologist


Agrologists study commercial and native plant communities and livestock production in order to improve yields, while at the same time advocating sustainable farming and ranching methods. Agrologists may also study farm, urban, and wilderness interfaces to find solutions to the challenge of competing demands on the land base, for example wildlife habitat, timber, recreation, urban expansion, and livestock. Most agrologists work as members of a team alongside other scientists and agriculture experts.

At a glance

Imagine it is a brisk, breezy autumn morning and you are standing in the middle of a rough pasture full of alfalfa and tall fescue grass. You have just purchased this pasture and intend to begin grazing sheep here next spring. But you are an agrologist, so you know it isn’t as simple as fencing in the pasture and letting loose a flock of sheep. You know there are a number of factors you must measure and consider in order to determine how and when you can begin using this pasture as part of your growing sheep farm. That’s why you are here today; you are going to start collecting samples and surveying the pasture so you know what work must be done if you hope to use this patch of land next spring. As an agrologist, you know what this field needs to become a suitable pasture for your sheep. You can easily see that the fence must be repaired in spots and a small shelter built, but that can be done with a few weeks’ work. What you are more interested in is harder to see, namely the nutrient levels of the grass and alfalfa stands. You are collecting samples from the pasture and will test their contents to determine if your grazing sheep can acquire all the necessary dietary nutrients from the pasture alone or if they will need supplements. You are also checking if any plants are infected with fungi or bacteria that could be toxic to your sheep. In addition, you’re evaluating the pasture’s general health and the abundance of growth, which will give you an indication of how many sheep can be pastured here and for how long. This will also help you estimate the age of the pasture stands and when you must reseed the grass. Finally, you are checking to make sure there is adequate fresh water for your sheep and keeping an eye out for signs of predators, such as coyotes, that could threaten the flock. In your job as an agrologist, you have spent a lot of time evaluating pastures and range-management plans for other ranchers, so you are confident you can do a good job with your own land.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an agrologist:
  • Communicate with the research community to develop and extend new technologies and practices to producers for their agricultural businesses.
  • Advise farmers and livestock producers on cropping and livestock practices that will improve their economic returns as well as protect environmental sustainability.
  • Design and evaluate plans for land use, including the use of Crown land by livestock producers or plans to improve a degraded land base.
  • Foster the use of best management practices for farming and livestock production techniques, for example pest and weed control and strategies for reducing disease.
  • Collect and analyze samples and interpret the results.
  • Work with producers to encourage soil testing and plant analysis to determine crop nutrient needs and match fertility programs with those needs.
  • Participate in technology transfer and training activities.
  • Prepare and conduct advisory information sessions and lectures for farmers, livestock producers, and other relevant groups.
  • Evaluate crop performance as affected by weather, pests, and management practices, and on occasion give evidence for insurance purposes.
  • Strategize and collaborate with other stakeholder groups on land-use issues.

Work environment

Agrologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports and articles
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Researching new technology and new advancements in agriculture and preparing recommendations
  • Participating on committees for policy development, regulation development, and research and educational program development
In the field:
  • Inspecting and testing crops, soils, and livestock, and problem solving with producers
  • Making presentations to farmers, agriculture businesses, etc., and participating in field tours and training sessions
  • Responding to requests from clients

Where to work

There are a number of places agrologists can find employment. They include:
  • Agriculture consulting and farm management firms
  • Banks, agribusinesses, and farms
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
  • Colleges and universities
  • Foreign aid agencies and international agriculture projects

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an agrologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Economics
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an agrologist is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an agrologist, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Agronomy
  • Soil Science
  • Agriculture
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Environmental Management
In most provinces, agrologists must be certified and a member of a professional association. The requirements for certification and professional status vary among provinces.

Role Model

Gary Rolston

"Being with nature, being able to spend time outside.” According to Gary Rolston, this is why he chose a career as an agrologist. As a young man growing up on a ranch in British Columbia’s interior, Gary always thought that a career in agriculture was a natural choice. But after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in agricultural sciences, Gary moved to Alberta and took a job in farmland leasing. After several years, his love of farming and agriculture took him back to B.C., where he started working as a district agriculturist. Almost 20 years later, Garry is now the owner and operator of From the Ground Up. This Vancouver Island agricultural consulting firm stays true to the reason he chose agrology as a career in the first place. "From the Ground Up kind of explains it all. I want to be outside. I don’t want to be sitting at my desk.” Gary has worked on a number of different agrology related projects, including developing farm management plans, providing soil fertility recommendations to farmers, developing draining and irrigation plans for farms, and even developing elaborate greenhouse systems for clients. When Gary is in the field, he’s often in a supervisory role monitoring projects or interacting directly with clients to make sure their needs are met. This means he could be overseeing the application of biosolids (sewage sludge being used as fertilizer) onto a crop, or touring a new irrigation system with a farm owner answering his questions and ensuring the system is working properly. At his desk, Gary can be found working on spreadsheets for data analysis, writing project-specific reports, or researching trends or different agricultural practices. He enjoys the variety of responsibilities his job offers: "A lot of jobs nowadays are cookie-cutter and predictable, whereas when you’re dealing with Mother Nature, she’ll throw anything at you…there’s always variety.” There are few negative aspects to Gary’s job. As a self-employed agrologist, he says "You can’t always schedule a regular eight-hour day and schedule holidays when you want to.” However, this pales in comparison to the positive aspects. «I just enjoy what I do. I invented it and there’s enough work now to keep me busy and to allow me to make a good living.” Gary is also proud that he is actively contributing to the environmental well-being of the Island. "There are a lot of conflicting land uses in south coastal B.C.” With so many industries vying for the same land on the island, Gary is happy to be able to apply his expertise to ensure the land is used efficiently and will be around for many future generations to enjoy.