What Is Agribusiness?

A career in agribusiness provides opportunities to protect natural resources and maintain food security. Learn more about jobs in agribusiness.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Published August 16, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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What Is Agribusiness?
Image Credit: The Good Brigade / DigitalVision / Getty Images


What to Know About Agribusiness

Agribusiness professionals work in different aspects of farming operations, such as crop production and distribution, farm equipment manufacture and sales, biofuel production, and forestry management. Agribusiness also includes growing and processing cotton, wool, and other textiles.

Agribusiness jobs include agricultural equipment technicians, growers, farm workers, agriculture engineers, and crop managers. Professionals in this field can also work as sales representatives, warehouse managers, and purchasing agents. Companies that promote agritourism employ people to educate the public about various aspects of farming.

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Many agribusiness jobs involve strong interpersonal skills. For instance, agronomist Lynn Griffith interacts daily with "farmers, nurserymen, golf course superintendents, landscapers, fertilizer dealers, and high-end residential properties … all over the country." Much of his job involves traveling to meet with clients, consulting, and generating detailed reports. "I advise, educate, diagnose, troubleshoot, and help plan agricultural production strategies," says Griffith.

Careers in agribusiness generally vary in educational requirements. People interested in managerial positions or work in operations or finance might consider an associate degree. A bachelor's in agribusiness can prepare individuals for careers in accounting, animal science, or marketing. Jobs in research, statistics, market analysis, or policy often require a graduate degree.

The demand for many agribusiness jobs continues to grow, but demand varies by position. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for agriculture and food scientists will grow 9% between 2020-2030, compared to an 8% average growth for all occupations. In contrast, the BLS projects that jobs for farm workers and agricultural engineers will grow 2% and 5%, respectively, in the same period.

Farmers and ranchers might see job losses of 1% between 2020-2030. Despite increases in demand for agricultural products, the BLS maintains that advanced technologies reduce the need for human labor in their production and distribution.

Careers in Agribusiness

"Agriculture is a far larger and more diverse industry than people realize," says Griffith. "People tend to think of working in agriculture as a farmer with dusty boots walking or plowing a field." Agribusiness professionals include truck drivers, livestock breeders, sales representatives, mechanics, and farm equipment manufacturers. The agricultural sector also employs engineers, statisticians, crop researchers, marketing specialists, and sales representatives.

According to Payscale data from July 2022, professionals in the agricultural industry earn a mean annual salary of $76,000. Occupations in management and finance often pay some of the highest wages. For example, the BLS reports that as of 2021, operations managers made a mean annual salary of $115,250. Financial managers made a median salary of $131,7190 annually. In contrast, Payscale reports that as of July 2022, agronomists earn an average of $55,810 per year.

According to 2020 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), agriculture-related industries employ 19.7 million people in the U.S., accounting for about 10% of U.S. jobs. According to 2021 BLS data, California is the country's largest agricultural employer.

What Can You Do With an Agribusiness Degree?

Agricultural and Food Scientist

Agricultural and food scientists conduct research to uncover more efficient and safe ways to produce agricultural products. They also determine how commercial farmers can maintain and increase the sustainability of their livestock and crops. These professionals report their research findings to scientific colleagues, the public, and food producers. Agricultural and food scientists generally hold at least a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $74,160

Agricultural Engineer

Agricultural engineers work in food production, forestry, aquaculture, and farming to address machinery inefficiency and power supply issues. They also solve pollution challenges and help commercial producers find better storage and processing methods. Most agricultural engineers need at least a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $82,640

Conservation Scientist

Conservation scientists protect natural resources. They work with landowners, private companies, and other organizations to improve the land while ensuring its protection. These individuals also oversee land use and forest harvesting contracts, advise farmers and ranchers on preventing erosion, and monitor the utilization of cleared lands and their natural resources.

Median Annual Salary: $63,750

Pros and Cons of Working in Agribusiness

Pros

  • Agriculture professionals spend much of their time outdoors and in nature.
  • Many agribusiness professionals experience variety in their job duties and the people they interact with.
  • A career in this field can provide opportunities to improve the health and productivity of the environment.
  • Supporting growth in the agriculture industry can promote economic development in other sectors of the economy.
  • Agribusiness professionals play essential roles in maintaining the country's food security.

People who enjoy nature and want to improve environmental health might find an agribusiness career rewarding. "I am out in nature every day, meeting people, enjoying the beauty of our planet. I can't imagine doing anything else for a living," says Griffith.

This field often attracts individuals who channel their love of nature by helping others preserve it and use it productively. Griffith says, "The best part of my career is that I help people for a living. I take crops that are struggling and turn them around. I help growers increase yield and quality."

Cons

  • The hours can be irregular. Workers often respond to emergency calls early in the morning or late at night.
  • The BLS projects some agricultural jobs will experience slower growth rates than the average of all occupations.
  • Unforeseen factors like extreme climate conditions or insect infestations can contribute to crop or livestock losses.
  • Many agribusinesses take on considerable debt to acquire land, resources, and other assets.

Agribusiness might not be the right career for those looking for routine and predictable work conditions. Griffith recalls, "I can't count the number of times I have risen at 4 a.m. to go help a client somewhere. I get emergency calls all the time." Depending on the occupation, work in agriculture can also come with stress: "There is pressure, as often there are millions of dollars worth of crops on the line."

Is Agribusiness Right For Me?

Many agribusiness professionals describe their work as demanding but rewarding. Some of the most successful individuals in this field enjoy their time outdoors. They expect to respond to customers or clients at early hours. As Griffith says, "Being a morning person helps a great deal. Farmers don't sleep 'till 10."

Many agriculture jobs require good communication skills and a willingness to learn Spanish. "Becoming fluent in Spanish was one of the best things I ever did," says Griffith. "Spanish is the primary language of agriculture besides English in American agriculture." Students who exhibit business-related interests like management, finance, or marketing might also do well in agribusiness.

Agribusiness could be your career path if …

  • You do not shy away from hard work.
  • You enjoy early mornings and do not necessarily want a job with conventional hours.
  • You like being outdoors and in nature.
  • You take pleasure in helping others preserve and improve the earth's natural resources.
  • You care about helping maintain food security and promoting economic growth.
  • You worry about climate change and want a career that can help mitigate its impacts.
  • You can speak Spanish or show a willingness to learn the language.

How to Start Your Career in Agribusiness

Education

Not all agribusiness professionals begin their careers with an agriculture or agribusiness major. Some employers hire graduates with business management degrees or other backgrounds that provide relevant skills. Griffith explains, "I majored in chemistry, biology, and biochemistry. Studying biochemistry was especially helpful, as it enabled me to understand what is going on in crops physiologically and biochemically. It gave me a window to see into plants, to help know what makes them tick."

The degree level a student needs often depends on the specific occupation. For example, individuals interested in sales, merchandising, or livestock management might obtain an associate in agriculture. A bachelor's degree can prepare students for work in agricultural operations management, food science, marketing, and some engineering jobs. Highly specialized career paths — like agricultural law, animal science, and biosystems engineering — typically require more advanced degrees.

More degree programs for someone interested in agribusiness:

Jobs and Internships

An internship in agribusiness provides experiences that most students cannot gain in a classroom setting. Individuals might seek assistance from their campus student services offices to find the best internship opportunities. They can also consult their instructors and mentors for potential employers to contact.

Acquiring an entry-level position in agribusiness can lead to more rewarding job opportunities later. Many employers seek young workers who show energy and a willingness to learn. According to Griffith, "Younger people who have a decent work ethic and reasonable ability can go a long way, earning a good living with good job security."

Frequently Asked Questions About Careers in Agribusiness

Why is agribusiness important?

According to the USDA, agribusiness makes up about 5% of America's economy. In addition to being one of the largest employment sectors, agriculture advances the development of retail and wholesale trade, transportation, and other industries.

Agribusiness also provides income and food security for people living with limited financial means, especially individuals and families in rural areas of developing countries. People who work in agribusiness contribute to protecting the environment and mitigating climate change.

How does agribusiness help people in the developing world?

Agriculture is essential to economic growth worldwide, but especially in developing nations. Agriculture helps sustain and improve food security and generates income for individuals and families.

This industry is often more effective in reducing poverty and creating jobs than other industries. According to 2022 data from The World Bank, this sector can account for up to 25% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in some countries, which refers to the monetary value of goods and services that a country produces in a given period.

How much money can I make working in agribusiness?

According to the BLS, some agricultural workers, such as laborers and ranch hands, earned a median salary of $29,680 in 2021. In contrast, agricultural and food scientists and agricultural engineers made median salaries of $74,160 and $82,640, respectively, in the same year.

Conservation scientists and foresters earned a median salary of $63,750, with state and federal government professionals making higher pay. Salaries for agribusiness jobs vary by profession, employer, and location. Nevertheless, jobs requiring bachelor's or graduate degrees often provide higher pay.

With Advice From:

Lynn Griffith

Lynn Griffith is a world-renowned agronomist with 45 years of experience in the agricultural industry. His specializations include plant pathology, nematode analysis, and plant disorders. He is an expert court consultant and a horticultural consultant to all facets of the industry, including turf, nursery, farm, and interior and exterior landscaping.

He has spoken at conferences and in classrooms all around the world. His goal is to improve and save agricultural and horticultural communities worldwide. Griffith has degrees from Jacksonville University and Duke University.

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