Agricultural/horticultural scientists study farm animals, soils, pastures and crops to improve growth, health and quality, and to prevent pests and disease.
Graduate agricultural/horticultural scientists usually earn
$65K-$75K per year
Senior agricultural/horticultural scientists usually earn
$80K-$150K per year
Source: AgResearch, 2019.
Pay for agricultural/horticultural scientists varies depending on qualifications, experience, and the type of work they do.
- Graduates with a Doctorate usually earn $65,000 to $75,000 a year.
- After three to five years, agricultural/horticultural scientists usually earn $75,000 to $90,000.
- Senior agricultural/horticultural scientists may earn $80,000 to $150,000.
Source: AgResearch, 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Agricultural/horticultural scientists may do some or all of the following:
- research and advise on animal or plant diseases, pest control, and chemical use
- develop better methods of managing farms and orchards
- study the effects of agriculture and horticulture on the environment
- oversee new projects and field research
- research and write reports based on field study, and present results
- share research findings with other scientists, companies and government agencies
- write applications for research funding and manage budgets
- train and supervise lab technicians, research teams and field workers
- make sure all scientific work meets legal requirements.
Some days I might be out in the field collecting samples and taking these back to the lab for analysis. Other days might involve planning projects and interpreting results on my computer.
Skills and knowledge
Agricultural/horticultural scientists need to have:
- a high level of scientific knowledge, especially in biology and chemistry
- knowledge of crops, pastures, soil types and farm animals
- knowledge of agricultural and horticultural chemicals, pests and diseases
- technical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment.
- usually work regular business hours. They may work irregular or longer hours when doing fieldwork and research
- work in offices, laboratories and glasshouses, and on farms, orchards and nurseries
- may travel locally to talk to farmers and growers, and overseas to attend conferences or work on international research projects.
What's the job really like?
How did you start your career as a soil scientist?
"I grew up on a dairy farm in the Waikato, and always had an interest in science. After leaving school, I completed a Bachelor of Science with Honours and then went on to do my PhD at Massey University.
"It wasn't until I was at university looking for a project as part of my Honours degree, that I really became interested in how the soil – including its biology – is influenced by agricultural management."
What do you like about your job?
"I like the diversity my role gives me – every day is different.
"Some days I might be out in the field collecting samples and taking these back to the lab for analysis. Other days might involve planning projects and interpreting results on my computer, or attending and presenting at conferences and workshops."
What gives you a sense of achievement in your role?
"I get satisfaction from projects that help farmers understand the benefits of healthy soils. I conducted a farmer-led earthworm survey, which involved being on a stand at the Mystery Creek Fieldays. Interacting with farmers and the public was a real highlight."
Agricultural/horticultural scientist video
Lisa Jamieson talks about her role as an entomologist at Plant & Food Research – 3.20 mins.
We’re trying to control pests on fruit that we export overseas and to reduce the number of pests on fruit after they’ve been harvested.
I was actually at university studying marine biology, thinking I would get a job counting dolphins in a Zodiac, cruising around the coast. And then reality hit, I guess, and I started going for related jobs. You take a crayfish and an insect – they’re similar concepts. So I applied for an entomological position working with bugs and insects.
There’s a lot of challenges, especially working with bugs. For example, if you’re trying to find out what effect a post-harvest treatment has on a midge, there’s different types of effects. It could kill the midge or it could make the midge sterile so it can’t reproduce. So you have to know how to rear that midge, or breed it so you can follow it through its life cycle for a few generations and find out what effect a treatment has on that midge. We have a lot of challenges in babysitting insects, and rearing them and trying to nurture them, and build up colonies of them.
I got interested in science because I was always looking at creatures on the beach or in rockpools. Never really one to sit on the beach and sunbathe; more, looking in holes and grooves and rocks, and what’s in the water.
The coolest thing about our work is trying to find other ways to reduce chemical pesticides. So we’re looking at things like high-pressure washing to remove the pests and pesticides from the fruit. Some pretty cool UV light technology that controls pests and diseases, and we’re looking for low toxicity fumigants, things that are naturally found on fruit anyway.
The most important skills are the willingness to try new ideas, patience so that when things go wrong you can repeat them until you get things right, and thinking outside of the square.
Some of the exciting findings are trying to work out what causes particular damage on fruit. For example, in lemons we had a rind-spotting problem and tried to find out whether that was caused by a pest or a disease or climate. We did a range of trials and found out that a little moth lays its eggs on the rind. And then the larva bores straight in, ruptures an oil gland, causes the spot and the larvae essentially die. That was a good finding. Quirky! Some of the insect behaviour is really quirky!
To become an agricultural/horticultural scientist, you need a Doctorate in science in an area such as:
- agricultural science
Agricultural/horticultural scientists in research positions usually apply for a postdoctoral fellowship after completing a Doctorate.
You may need to do two or three postdoctoral fellowships (usually lasting two or three years each) before getting a permanent scientist position.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training.
Useful subjects include maths (especially statistics), chemistry, biology, and agricultural and horticultural science.
Agricultural/horticultural scientists need to be:
- good at solving problems
- good at communicating
- able to work well alone and in a team.
Useful experience for agricultural/horticultural scientists includes:
- experience in a laboratory
- academic, scientific, or industry research
- any work in science or agriculture.
Agricultural/horticultural scientists need to be reasonably fit as they lift and carry equipment during fieldwork.
They also need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) for laboratory work.
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Good demand for agricultural/horticultural scientists
Growing demand means opportunities for agricultural/horticultural scientists are good.
According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the amount of work for scientists has been increasing. It is expected to grow significantly to 2023, and then continue growing at 1.8% per year to 2028.
Increased funding means more jobs for agricultural/horticultural scientists
In the 2019 Budget, the Government announced increased funding for some primary sector areas. As a result, opportunities for agricultural/horticultural scientists are best in:
- animal welfare
- environment and conservation
- food safety
- sustainable land use.
Chances in these areas are particularly good for agricultural/horticultural scientists with experience in:
- analysing and monitoring climate and environmental conditions
- producing research and reports that inform government policy and legislation
- researching and monitoring sustainable land and water use
- scientific development, research and innovation projects.
Demand is strongest for scientists who specialise in environmental research.
Types of employers varied
Agricultural/horticultural scientists may work for:
- agricultural and horticultural equipment suppliers
- animal and plant feed developers and manufacturers
- chemical companies producing fertilisers and similar products
- consultancy companies – for example, those doing environmental assessments for resource consents
- government departments and local councils
- universities and research institutes.
- Chapman, M, 'Putting the Tomorrow in Tomorrow's Schools', 29 April 2019, (www.hortnz.co.nz).
- Dalziel, P, et al, 'The New Zealand Food and Fibre Sector: A Situational Analysis', December 2018, (www.mpi.govt.nz).
- Daniel, M, 'Eyeing up Ag's Opportunities', Rural News, 9 October 2019, (www.ruralnewsgroup.co.nz).
- Edlin, B, 'Research Funding to Provide Help for Farmers to Meet Climate Challenges', accessed November 2019, (agscience.org.nz).
- Hutching, G, 'Primary Sector Budget Funds Focus on Environmental Protection', Stuff, 30 May 2019, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Kilmister, S, 'Government Announces Plan to Get More Skilled Workers Into Primary Industries', Stuff, October 2019, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Macdonald, A, HR co-ordinator, AgResearch, careers.govt.nz interview, October 2019.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Medium to Long-term Employment Projections: Looking Ahead to 2028', August 2019, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Ministry for Primary Industries, 'Growing Our Future', 27 June 2019, (www.mpi.govt.nz).
- Ministry for Primary Industries, 'Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries', accessed October 2019, (www.mpi.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Government, 'Plan to Strengthen Primary Sector Workforce' (media release), 29 October 2019, (www.beehive.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Government, 'Transforming the Economy' (media release), 30 May 2019, (www.beehive.govt.nz).
- Rae, S, 'Focus on a High-Value Future', Otago Daily Times, July 2019, (www.odt.co.nz).
- Rural News Group, 'Investors Hopping Into Horticulture’, 13 September 2019, (www.ruralnewsgroup.co.nz).
- Skerrett, A, 'Farmers Welcome Details From Budget Funding', Newshub, 13 June 2019, (www.newshub.co.nz).
- Tipa, P, 'Hort's Star Keeps Rising', Rural News, 5 November 2019, (www.ruralnewsgroup.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Agricultural/horticultural scientists in research positions usually:
- apply for a postdoctoral fellowship after completing a Doctorate
- complete two or three postdoctoral fellowships (usually lasting two or three years each), before getting a permanent scientist position
- progress into senior research scientist, team leader, or managerial roles after they have about 15 years of experience.
Agricultural/horticultural scientists can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Agricultural Biotechnologist
- Agricultural biotechnologists use techniques, such as genetic engineering, to improve the quality and diversity of plant and animal products.
- Agricultural Entomologist
- Agricultural entomologists investigate the causes of insect outbreaks, and research ways to control them through biological pest management and chemical processes.
- Agricultural Microbiologist
- Agricultural microbiologists identify and control plant and animal disease. They often work in specialised areas such as food technology or environmental management.
- Agronomists advise farmers and growers on best agricultural practice, including how to increase crop yield and farming profits.
- Animal Scientist
- Animal scientists research and study the genetics, nutrition, reproduction, growth, and development of domestic farm animals.
- Crop Physiologist
- Crop physiologists study plant growth and the effects of environmental conditions and chemicals on crops.
- Environmental Scientist
- Environmental scientists study the environment and how plants, animals and other living things are affected by it. They also study external influences, such as pollutants, and advise how to reduce their harmful effects.
- Horticultural Scientist
- Horticultural scientists study the growth and development of plants and crops, including vegetables and fruits.
- Soil Scientist
- Soil scientists study the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soils to work out the most effective planting methods.
Last updated 25 November 2019