Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation Careers & Salary Outlook

Find Your Dream Career or Job in Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation

What is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Conservation Specialist?

Agricultural and Natural Resource Conservation is a field that maintains the environment and agricultural lands for the betterment of the nation. Workers are concerned with things like air and water quality, how technology can assist conservation, and how to maximize things like wildlife population as well as crop yields. Thus, professionals in the field might work for state or federal agencies but are also found on private lands and farming operations.

Those who choose this profession are often inspired by early events in their childhood. If you were raised on a farm or perhaps near a forest, you may be curious about working with agriculture or as a natural resource conservationist. Alternatively, you might be from a city but find endless fascination in nature's intricate inter-relations.

Green Career Paths


Steps to Take for This Career Path


Once you've determined that this is the field for you, there are certain steps you can take that will ensure the greatest possibility of success. You'll want to start out with summer or part-time jobs that relate to your ultimate career goals. Concurrently, you will want to earn a bachelor’s degree. You can include internships in your baccalaureate studies. Internships will allow you to apply your academic learning and provide needed experience that will help launch your career.

After you have gained several years’ worth of experience in the field, you can start to consider a graduate degree. Your experience will help you determine exactly what sort of program works best for you. Some will want to delve deeper into the science and laboratory aspects of agriculture and resource conservation, while others will be more interested in administration or even public policy.

  • Step 1: Discover Your Passion

  • Step 2: Bachelor's Degree

  • Step 3: Gain Experience

  • Step 4: Graduate Degree

Step 1: Discover Your Passion

Agriculture and Resource Conservation are broad fields that overlap in many important ways. Most professionals in these areas start with an abiding passion for nature or farming. You might have had a special experience that has inspired your interest in farming and protecting our natural resources. On the other hand, you might stumble onto the field by taking an elective course in college.

Regardless of your inspiration, it is important to have a love for the field. After all, these professionals are involved in work that seeks to protect and nurture.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While you can launch a career in farming or resource conservation and management without a four-year degree, you will find that your career goes farther, faster with one than without one. To ensure that your career launches with the best chance for success, seek out a university that offers the specific type of program you need. If you are interested in farming, look for schools that have a large Agricultural Sciences department. These programs frequently have on-campus farms where you can gain hands-on knowledge and experience.

If you are interested in in conservation, you might find that you can pursue a wider range of major fields. Students with general biology or botany degrees can pursue the field, but they will be well-served by including internships in their degree. Essentially, if you choose a specialty that focuses your studies toward growing things or agriculture specifically, it is sure to apply to the field of conservation. Students of geology and civil engineering are also encouraged to pursue agriculture and conservation, as the fields can intersect.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Your first job will likely serve as a seed that informs your entire career. That first position will help you form a foundation that will bolster your later work. Thus, it is very important that you seek the precise education and early experiential learning that you can build on later.

During your early working years, try to learn as much as you possibly can. If you pursue the field from a more scientific standpoint, try to work on the most interesting research you can gain access to. If possible, propose hypotheses to your supervisor and otherwise try to engage with the process. These days you might even consider working for a number of different firms or organizations. It's far more common for workers to spend two-three years in a job before moving on. However, be mindful when you change jobs. Seek out new positions that will help you learn and grow as a professional.

Step 4: Earn a Graduate Degree

Once you have built a significant resume in agriculture or resource conservation, you can start looking at graduate programs. These days a graduate degree is a necessity if you want your career to reach the highest heights. There are still many things to consider, however.

For one thing, you’ll need to take an inventory of your experience and your overall strengths and weaknesses. In this process you can decide exactly what you want for your future. You might decide that you are drawn to the public policy aspects of your field. On the other hand, you might be compelled to the laboratory and the strictly scientific realm. You could also determine that you love your field but are ready to move into a managerial position. If that's the case, you should consider an MBA. You may even find a program that offers a dual MBA degree that pairs with another passion of yours.

What Does an Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservationist Do?


There are two major divisions in this field and, while there are exceptions, most conservationists either work inside or outside. Those who are indoors can find themselves working in an office or the laboratory. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher and work in an office environment, you might spend time creating educational or marketing materials related to conservation. For example, your knowledge of agriculture or biology could be applied to educating the public so that they might be more aware of issues pertinent to conservation. You could even be engaged with creative work like the production of pamphlets or web content or even producing videos that dramatize conservation issues. If you work in the lab, you might study various soil or water samples as a scientist or lab technician. Lab workers might also find themselves in the field collecting samples or gaining more context for the samples they examine.

If you work outside as a conservationist, you might spend hours studying a wild landscape or farm to determine how to best manage the land. You could be involved in taking a census of an area’s flora or fauna. Depending on your area of expertise, you might even measure erosion and devise strategies for slowing or stopping that damage.

Note that many conservationists work as docents in natural areas. These professionals guide groups around an arboretum or other public, natural space. Their tours inform people as to the importance of conservation while also pointing out the names and characteristics of various plants. Tours might focus on plants that are in bloom at the time, or trees that exhibit particularly fantastic fall color.

On a daily basis, a conservationist might spend time in meetings with fellow professionals or in the field tromping through fields or forests in search of samples. Others might work in public outreach. Either way, a conservationist's job is to record and examine the state of their territory and work to enhance its overall health and vibrancy.

Skills to Acquire


Conservationists of all sort need in-depth knowledge. When you decide on a specialty area, your college coursework will help you go into great depth and detail so that you have high competency in your field. A lot will also depend on your local area. If you are conservationist in the Pacific Northwest, you will learn a lot about the flora and fauna of that region. There are many grasses and other plants that are unique to that area. You will also learn a lot about invasive species that can harm local forests.

If your specialty is in agriculture, you will learn how to maintain fields year after year. You will learn how to irrigate them with maximum efficiency and how to maintain the soil so that they perform as well as possible each year. One aspect of your education might be pesticides and how to manage their use so that your soil remains healthy.

If you find yourself pursuing the hard science aspect of conservation, you will need to hone your observations. You'll spend many hours testing soil or water samples to determine the health of the forest, fields, or waterways. You might also specialize in animals and thus need to perform autopsies on diseased animals. You might also perform studies in which you track live animals to determine how they are interacting with their environment, including others of their species.

Alternative Paths


There is no one way to become a conservationist or an agricultural expert. Many conservationists begin by working as research assistants in university studies. Whether they are still students or simply passionate young people looking for adventure in the field, some universities will pay them to collect all sorts of data for the purposes of ongoing, or even short-term, studies. This level of engagement is relatively low but can be a great way to get started.

If you are interested in farming, you can always find work on small farms. The work is hard, and the pay is often minimal, but the rewards can be great. In fact, many young people travel a circuit of organic farms. They offer their services in return for room and board. Sometimes there is a small stipend involved. Though this might not sound like a career-track, this sort of experience can be very enlightening and might inform your later work as a farmer or agricultural expert.

Still others form their own non-profit organizations and start organizing clean-up events in areas that need help. Some clean up the plastic that washes up on beaches while others work to eradicate invasive plants in their local forest. You may still need to return to school if you wish to work with a governmental conservation group, a large non-profit, or private farmers or other major landowners.

Career & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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Most often, conservationists work for governmental organizations, while agricultural experts usually work for private, for-profit farming concerns. Those who work for the government might work under the auspices of the Unites States Department of Agriculture. The National Resources Conservation Service, for instance, employs many to oversee various land use issues. On the other hand, there are also state-level positions available for conservationists who wish to work in state parks.

Private concerns also employ conservationists. Ranchers with large plots of land, for instance, may need conservationists to help maintain their lands. If you work for a large landowner, you will consult with them on how to best manage the natural wildlife, plant life, and more. If the land is used for cattle, you might study the grasses and soil to ensure that the animals maintain optimal health. You can also ensure that the ranch operates within the guidelines of state and federal regulations.

Potential Career Paths


The world of conservation and agricultural science is quite large. When you set out for a degree, you should start to consider what career path you would like to follow. That will involve examining your skills, your aptitudes, and your passions. Some may have a passion for the oceans while others might prefer working with freshwater. Still others will want to work with plants and seek to bring new innovations into agriculture or work to save forests.

  • Oceanography:
    This career path will take you far out to sea. You can work to understand what is happening in the ocean with regards to climate change or general pollution. You could work to clean up the debris humans have left to float, or study fish and other sea creatures.
  • Docent:
    This career path is known by many names. It often entails working in a municipal wildlife preserve. You will study the area and learn as much as you can. Then you can guide interested groups through and demonstrate your knowledge of the plants.
  • Park Ranger:
    These professionals work to oversee state and national parks. Your job will have many facets including oversight of the natural wildlife, and the visiting human wildlife. You'll work to educate park visitors to the importance of campsite cleanliness, how to use bear boxes, and other vital tips.
  • Botanist:
    This profession specializes in plants. If you take this path, you'll learn more about plants than you ever thought possible. One potential drawback is that you may become an expert in your local area but then find yourself unable to identify certain subspecies when you visit another area. For instance, imagine a jungle botanist in Hawaii trying to understand the desert plants of Arizona.
  • Agricultural Expert:
    When you complete a degree in agricultural sciences, you will be an expert in the most up-to-date science regarding agricultural food production. Your expertise will enable your farm to manage its water use to a maximum efficiency and you'll likely innovate new ways to harvest crops and manage yields.
  • Environmental Science Technician:
    These professionals work both in a lab and in the field. You'll enter the field to collect all sorts of samples and then return to the lab where you'll examine your findings. You may be in charge of tracking soil samples over time or measuring pollution levels in a local waterway.
  • Hydrologist:
    Water use issues are going to be a major problem in the future, and in some places, they are already a concern. If you're a hydrologist, you will help governmental and private concerns manage their water use to maximum efficiency. Your work could include irrigation issues and drainage, too.

Career Outlook


The career outlook for this field is looking quite good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that careers in this field are growing faster than average. Salaries are also quite healthy. With a two-year degree, you can become an Environmental Science Technician and earn a median salary of approximately $46,170. If you earn a bachelor’s degree and enter the hydrology field, you might earn a median salary of around $79,000 per year. At the upper end, Environmental Engineers are currently earning a median salary of $87,000 with a 5% occupational growth rate through 2028.

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Advancing from Here


Workers who pursue conservation and agricultural sciences can indeed advance quite far. It is possible to rise through the ranks of federal or state jobs and earn a healthy salary. You might also enter the private sector. For instance, a civil engineer who is focused on conservation-minded projects can do very well for themselves.