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Careers and employment in agriculture (Part 1)


There are many different careers in the agricultural industry, from farm workers to scientists. Under the “Careers in agriculture” heading, these careers and relevant academic path of study is set out.

There are hundreds of other careers which touch on the world of agriculture which may not be inherently agricultural in and of themselves. A look through the different pages of this website will give you an idea of these: there are managers, secretaries, social workers, mechanics, lawyers, politicians, meteorologists etc. On this page we have tried to list some of these options too (see “Careers related to agriculture” and “Other careers – people and companies listed on our website” headings).

If you are considering a career in agriculture or in the agro-food industries, find out from the SETAs which skills are scarce. Publications setting out the scare skills in agriculture, forestry and fisheries can be found on and (take the “Branches” and “Food security and agrarian reform” options).

Two sources were vital in compiling this chapter: Careers in Agriculture and Water@work. Find both of these listed under the “Websites and publications” heading.

International business environment

Marcos Fava Neves and Roberto Fava Scare, two professors from the University of Sao Paula in Brazil, say that the world has seen a dramatic change in two of resources, people and management, over the past five years.

In Brazil, we’ve moved from a period of unemployment with plentiful labour for the food and agribusiness production to an era where there is a shortage of available workers. Additionally, they are both expensive and low-skilled. This is threatening the ability of food and agri-business to thrive and is one of the biggest challenges in Brazil — a country that has greatly benefited from of this demand-growth period due to the richness of resources.

Massive education is necessary in order to create the talent necessary for the future. This is something that takes time and is not easily solved. Countries which have made a strategic investment in education are now reaping the rewards. For example, in Russia and Chile, 24% of the population between ages 25 to 34 years have attended universities, while in Brazil and South Africa its remains closer to 7% (Mano and Ikeda, 2013).

In the past, 12% of the jobs in developed countries required a university degree, today it’s 25%. In emerging economies, this figure grew from 4 to 10% in the same period. McKinsey & Company estimates that we will have a deficit of 40 million professionals with a university degree in the world by 2020 (Baily and Manyka, 2013).

We are moving to an era of talent scarcity — urgency even more pronounced in the food and agri-business sector because highly skilled young people often find other industries more exciting. The task of finding, localizing and attracting qualified people is becoming increasingly important to each country’s operating policy.

Source: excerpts from “The global competition for talented people” by Marcos Fava Neves and Roberto Fava Scare. Read more at

Local business environment

By its nature, agriculture is primarily an outdoor occupation. However, that is not the whole picture. Agriculture is a science and needs people with degrees in science and engineering to help push it forward on levels such as genetics, soil management, and water management, physical construction such as dams and contouring, and mechanisation. This applies both in primary agriculture, on the farm, and downstream, in processing plants.

Agriculture is also a financial and business discipline. It takes significant investment to buy land, inputs such as seed, implements and equipment, and build processing plants or storage facilities. You need a high order of skill and insight to manage an agricultural operation’s cash flow, and physical and human assets, to ensure that it runs profitably and sustainably. Financial institutions such as Standard Bank employ agricultural economists and strategists to help agribusinesses to do just that.

The career opportunities in agriculture are extensive, and most of them require at least graduate capabilities. Another consideration is that they pay as well as equivalent executive and managerial positions in other industries.

Young people don’t always know this and so their career choices are curtailed.

In addition to the shortage of graduates working in agriculture itself, a shortage of certain agricultural scientists has developed. This puts South Africa’s ability to stay on par with the rest of the world at risk. We need researchers who can look at how best to exploit international developments here in South Africa, or help local agricultural operations innovate to take best advantage of local conditions. In this field, you could end up doing something as profound as helping to ensure food security for the country – or even the rest of the world.”

Source: Nico Groenewald, Head of Agribusiness at Standard Bank.

Various agricultural role players run school programmes which focus on agriculture’s value and the opportunities.

Careers in agriculture

The following information is made available by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). Information on agricultural careers can be found on the Directorate Education, Training and Extension Services web pages at See also the AgriSETA Career Guide booklet at


This category of engineer plans, designs and develops the equipment or infrastructure needed for the production and processing of agricultural products and they specialise in a specific field such as agricultural mechanisation, soil and water conservation, agricultural structures, irrigation and drainage and technology for food processing.

The agricultural engineering programme is termed differently by different universities namely: biological and agricultural engineering, and processing engineering and bioresource engineering. The latter is more likely to be used widely by most institutions as recommended in the academic circles.

What do I need to become an agricultural/bioresource engineer?

You must really enjoy studying science and engineering to be able to successfully complete your studies in this field and thereby ultimately realise your dream of becoming an agricultural or bioresource engineer.

Employment opportunities

The employment opportunities available to the agricultural engineers include the following focus areas:

  • Energy Sources and Mechanisation – Agricultural engineers contribute through research and development of alternative energy sources and machines, testing and improvement of existing sources of machinery. Agricultural engineers also provide consultation services on implement replacement, especially expensive machinery which is not always suitable to local conditions.
  • Farm Structures – Farm structures contribute to a successful farming enterprise. The agricultural engineer creates these facilities in accordance with animals’ needs and product demands within the boundaries of structural durability and the sensible application of capital. This field includes buildings for intensive meat, milk and egg production; storing, drying, refrigeration and processing of a large variety of agricultural and other products; glasshouses, plastic-covered tunnels, etc for animal, flower and vegetable production.
  • Irrigation and Drainage – The agricultural engineers’ services involve the design of new irrigation systems, e.g. pivot and conventional irrigation systems, micro, drip and flood irrigation and drainage. They also play a leading role in the planning and design of large state water schemes, hydrological research and water usage in South Africa.
  • Conservation of Natural Resources – Soil and water are limited but necessary for economical food production. Here the agricultural engineer can also help by means of advisory services relating to protective soil conservation and pasture systems and may get involved with the design and planning of conservation structures and safe transport systems for flood water control.

Career opportunities in Agricultural Engineering

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc Eng AgricFour years (full time)University of KZN, University of PretoriaMathematics and Physical Science, all on level 6 (70-79%)

 Job opportunities

  • Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and provincial departments of agriculture
  • ARC
  • universities
  • consulting
  • food processing companies
  • agricultural equipment & systems manufacturers

See the website of the South African Institute for Agricultural Engineers at Information specific to Bioresource engineering can be read at


Agricultural economists are economists who studied economics with special emphasis on the food systems, natural resources, environmental policy and economic development, and as such whose area of specialization is focused towards the agricultural sector. They analyse and advise the optimal use of production factors for the environmentally sustainable production of food and fibres in an internationally competitive marketing milieu.

They are also concerned with all economic activities, which include the manufacture and distribution of agricultural means of production, the farming process, determination of government policy concerning agricultural and consumption affairs, purchasing, processing and distribution of agricultural products, as well as the international trade policies.

Career opportunities in Agricultural Economics

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc (Agric) Agricultural EconomicsFour years (full time)NWU, UKZN and universities offering agricultural degreesMathematics, Physical Science, Agricultural Science or Economics / Business Economics Level 4 (50-59%)

Job opportunities

Government Departments

  • DALRRD and provincial departments of agriculture
  • International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)
  • Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic)
  • Employment and Labour (DEL)
  • Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DHSWS)
  • Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)

Banking Institutions

  • commercial banks
  • Land Bank
  • Development Bank of SA (economists, credit consultants / advisors and commodity traders)
  • Consulting firms

Academic and research institutions

  • universities, ARC, Statistics SA (lecturer, researcher, economist)

Other private organisations

  • agribusinesses and co-operatives
  • importing/exporting companies
  • financial companies (insurance, asset management, traders)
  • media companies
  • consulting firms
  • international Agencies (development)
  • seed companies
  • research and development

Visit the website of the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA) [Website problems, 9 February 2023]


Agronomists are responsible for the successful growing of corn, maize, grain sorghum, groundnuts, sunflower, cotton, sugar cane, potatoes and forage crops. Agronomists must develop and implement production systems with the aim to have optimal economic production without harm to the environment.

Career opportunities in Agronomy

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc (Agric) for a career as an agronomist (scientist)Four years (full time)Universities offering agricultural degreesMathematics and Physical Science level 4 (50-59%)
National Diploma in Agronomy and BTech in Crop Production – for a career as an agronomist (technician)Three years (full time)Most Universities of Technology and Colleges of AgricultureMathematics and Physical Science

Job opportunities

  • agribusinesses and agricultural co-operatives
  • fertiliser manufacturers
  • agricultural pesticide departments
  • universities

See websites like those of the South African Society of Crop Production, as well as those of related commodity organisations (find these in the relevant pages in the “Agronomy” section on this website).



Agricultural technicians assist agricultural scientists in their work and help with the collection of information. They also give advice and information to the farming industry. There are three groups of agricultural technicians:

1) Agricultural resource technicians

  • work together with the agricultural resource officer
  • are involved in the classification, description and plotting of a region’s natural resources.

2) Agricultural extension technicians

  • assist the agricultural extension officer
  • collect information to determine the needs of extension

3) Agricultural research technicians

  • help the agricultural researchers.

Career opportunities in Agricultural Technical Services

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
National Diploma in Agriculture: Botany; National Diploma in Nature Conservation; National Diploma in Analytical Chemistry; National Diploma in Agriculture: Animal Production; National Diploma in EngineeringThree years (full time)Universities of Technology and Agricultural CollegesMathematics, Agricultural Science, Physical Science or Biology

 Job opportunities

  • government departments: DALRRD, DHSWS and DFFE
  • ARC
  • agribusinesses and agricultural co-operatives

Animal scientists are qualified people involved in research and development and who give advice to the livestock industry concerning the production of animals and their products. These scientists focus areas include: animal nutrition, breeding, genetics and meat science, as well as various production systems with regard to a variety of farm animals.

Responsibilities of an animal scientist

Animal science refers to the study of livestock in their specific environment and their products such as meat, milk, fibre, leather and the variety of products which emanate from these primary products. This includes the development of new products and the processing and marketing of animal products. Animal scientists make important contributions in various fields, through:

  • assisting the industry to effectively utilise the natural resources of the country
  • researching the challenges which face the livestock producer and the livestock product manufacturer
  • giving advice on all animal species and their products (contribute to the livestock industry)
  • conserving and putting to use the rich genetic biodiversity on animal species farmed in South Africa
  • using up-to-date biotechnology to help the livestock industry to keep abreast of the global competition it faces in animal production and products

The nature of the work varies from working directly with animals to the fundamentals of molecular biotechnology. Researchers may therefore spend their working day in the laboratory and/or physically working with animals. Consulting animal scientists find themselves in the applied situation, which requires travelling and experiencing the industry in a wide sense.

Requirements: what kind of personality do I need?

The most important requirement is that animal scientists should like to work with animals.

Career opportunities in Animal Science

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc Agric Animal ScienceFour years (full time)Universities offering agricultural degreesMathematics, Physical Science Level 4 (50-59%)

Job opportunities

  • animal husbandry industries e.g. farms, feedlots
  • livestock products e.g. dairy
  • feed, forage and stock remedies companies
  • agricultural extension officers
  • technical adviser/manager for businesses involved in the livestock, livestock products, distributors of forage and stock remedies
  • teaching / lecturing
  • research: nutrition, physiology, breeding and processing of products
  • consultancy and advisory services e.g. private consultant, agricultural co-operations
  • nature conservation institutions
  • legislative/regulative e.g. Department of Agriculture
  • pharmaceutical companies

Take a look at the website of the South African Society of Animal Science (SASAS) –


Availability of nitrogen in soil is perhaps the single most important factor limiting plant growth and crop yields. Some free-living and symbiotic bacteria directly influence availability of nitrogen in soil by conversion of atmospheric dinitrogen to ammonia in the process termed biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). Worldwide BNF accounts for 65 % of the nitrogen used in agriculture, of which the symbiosis of legumes with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia is by far the most important source. Legumes such as soy beans, groundnuts, peas, beans, lentils, lucerne and clover are a major source of protein for human and animal consumption.

What is needed to become a biological nitrogen fixationist?

A strong interest in biological science and research is essential and the person should love to work under uncomfortable conditions with soil.

Career opportunities in Biological nitrogen fixation

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc Agric or MicrobiologyThree years (full time)Most UniversitiesBiology and/or Agricultural Science and Chemistry

Job opportunities

  • government research: DALRRD and provincial departments of agriculture
  • ARC research centres
  • private companies: commercial inoculant manufacturers
  • own company – consultant
  • university academics: research on legume nitrogen fixation

Entomologists are basically involved in research to ensure plant protection. There are various categories such as plant pathology, microbiology and insect diversity.

What is needed to become an entomologist?

You must have a strong interest in science studies and research.

Career opportunities in Entomology

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc EntomologyThree years (full time)Most UniversitiesMathematics, Physics and Biology Level 4 (50-59%)

Job opportunities

  • DALRRD and provincial departments of agriculture
  • ARC
  • academic institutions

Food scientists are responsible for food examinations and inspections to ensure that food is healthy and safe for human consumption. Their functions revolve around the following areas:

  • investigating the basic nature of food and its nutritional, physical and chemical properties
  • research into new and economical production procedures
  • development of new and safe food products
  • management within companies involved in food processing and preservation

Food technologists are concerned with aspects pertaining to the production, preservation and development of high-quality foods. They also manage processing plants and quality assurance laboratories. They are charged with monitoring of food-quality standards by government bodies (namely the South African Bureau of Standards).

Career opportunities in Food Science / Technology

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc Food Science or BSc (Agric) Food Science for career as a food scientistFour years (full time)Most UniversitiesMathematics, Physics and Biology or Agricultural Level 4 (50-59%)
National Diploma in Food Technology and a BTech Food Technology – for a career as a Food technologistFour yearsMost Universities of Technology(As above)

Job opportunities

  • DALRRD and provincial departments of agriculture
  • ARC
  • academic institutions
  • food manufacturing / processing companies

Take a look at, website of the South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST).


Horticulturists are involved in the application of scientifically based production systems of vegetables, fruit and ornamental plants. Hydroponics is a kind of a system of production called soilless growing where fertilisers and minerals are added to or mixed with water and supplied to plants. Horticulturists can advance their career as biotechnologists by furthering their studies in this discipline. The positions that can be found in the institutions listed in the table below, include among others, the following:

  • agricultural product sales
  • arborist
  • chemical research and development
  • consumer relations
  • corporate horticulturist
  • disease and pest manager
  • equipment sales
  • extension specialist
  • fertiliser sales representative
  • floral crop grower
  • floral shop manager
  • fruit and vegetable grower
  • garden centre manager
  • garden writer
  • golf course superintendent
  • greenhouse manager
  • home and commercial lawn
  • horticultural artist
  • horticultural consultant
  • horticultural therapist
  • interior plantscape designer
  • interior plantscape manager
  • landscape contractor and marketing
  • landscape designer
  • nurseryman
  • nursery crop grower
  • nursery manager
  • owner of horticultural business
  • park manager representative
  • park/zoo horticulturist
  • plant breeder
  • plant propagator
  • plant researcher
  • quality control specialist
  • radio/tv editor
  • retail and wholesale sales representative
  • roadside marketer
  • seed and bulb sales and marketing
  • sod grower care manager
  • teacher – high school/junior college
  • urban forester / horticulturist

Career opportunities in Horticulture and Hydroponics

QualificationDurationInstitutionEntry Requirement
BSc (Agric) Horticulture; National Diploma or BTech degree in HorticultureFour years for degree and three years for National DiplomaMost Universities, Universities of Technology, Agricultural CollegesMathematics, Physical Science, Agricultural Science and Biology

Job opportunities

  • DALRRD and provincial departments of agriculture
  • botanical gardens
  • farming businesses
  • fresh produce markets
  • seed manufacturing companies
  • agribusinesses / co-operatives
  • private enterprises
  • lecturing / teaching
  • research institutes e.g. ARC
  • development organisations

Visit, website of the Southern African Society for Horticultural Sciences (SASHS). The details of various fruit commodity associations can be found on the relevant pages in the “Horticulture” section of this website. Also consult the “Hydroponics & undercover growing” page.

Continued on “Careers and employment in agriculture (Part 2)

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