Education

Digging up dirt

Soil scientists help increase sustainable crop productivity while conserving soils and preventing erosion and adverse effects of soil pollution.
Navneet RavikarJanuary 29, 2022 16:28 IST
Updated: January 31, 2022 21:00 IST

What does a soil and plant scientist do? What are the career prospects in this field?

Can one have a career working with “Dirt”? Don’t be surprised if the answer is yes, given the emphasis being given to the Agriculture sector. Soil is more than just dirt, it’s a crucial resource that sustains the miracle of life on the planet. As the global population increases, soil scientists have the very important job of increasing sustainable crop productivity while conserving soils, preventing erosion and adverse effects of soil pollution.

What they do

Soil and plant scientists help maintain food supply by ensuring farm and agricultural productivity. They research crops and livestock in order to develop ways of increasing quality and quantity and develop processes and create a methodology to control pests and weeds more effectively and safely. This helps conserve water and soil and improves crop yield.

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The advances in the study of genetics has encouraged the growth of biotechnology. In the soil and plant science industry, it is used to modify the genetic material of crops and plants to make them either more resilient to disease or more productive. Such advances lead to research opportunities in environmental remediation and commercial applications in agriculture and the food industry. The demand for alternative energy resources has also created a new venture of research regarding the production of biofuels or fuels generated from agricultural derivatives.

Plant scientists help provide alternative adaptations to producers of Feed, Food, and Fibre crops to conserve natural resources and feed a growing population. Using biotechnology to research ways to improve the quality of the seed and the nutritional value of the crops, agronomists and crop scientists help increase productivity. Crop scientists generally study Crop Phenology, physiology, and crop management practices. Others work towards developing new technologies to manage pests and prevent their spread in environmentally appropriate ways. They are also responsible for supervising activities to eliminate the spread of insect-borne disease.

Soil scientists study various compositions of soil — physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical — with respect to plant growth and analyse how soil responds to various types of tillage practices, crop rotation and fertilizers.

Educational qalifications

A Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science is required for the majority of jobs, while a Master’s degree or doctorate is usually required for research positions. For those with relevant academic qualifications, job profiles include Soil Scientist, Soil Pathologist, Professor, Soil Pedologist, Ecologist, Environmental Scientist, Hydrologist Scientific, Laboratory Technician, Soil Conservation Technician.

As Agricultural scientists work to limit the negative environmental impact of agriculture and develop new products utilising biotechnology, their career graph sees a fast growth, especially those with specialisations in Plant Pathology, Plant Genetics and Biotechnology.

Career prospects

Modern Agriculture is being driven by constant improvements in digital tools and data as well as collaborations among farmers and researchers across the public and private sectors. The gap between researchers, technologies, and farmers is shrinking and a synergy is being developed rapidly. This will ultimately create an ecosystem accompanying domain experts, real-time qualified data and farmers. Well-trained Soil and Plant Scientists are in high demand for a wide array of professional positions with public agencies or private firms. Wetland Specialist, County Agricultural Agent, Soil Conservationist, Watershed Technician, Soil Scientist, mapping and interpretation, State soil and water quality specialist, Crop production specialist are a few positions that have developed over the decade.

The writer is Chairman and Managing Director, Leads Connect Services.

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