With people having more access to technology and information, the supply chain of our food has never come under such close watch. Problems like chemical pesticides, technological progression, genetic modification, climate change and – most recently – the infamous horse meat scandal mean the agricultural sector is currently undergoing some pretty big changes.
What A-Levels do you need?
Usually some science-based A-levels will be required, although this varies depending on the university and the course in question. Bangor prefer at least one science A-level from students applying to their agriculture, conservation and environment BSc, for example, whereas the University of Nottingham require two science A-levels (although these can include the likes of geography and maths).
What are your study options?
If you’re starting to think about doing agriculture or horticulture at uni, you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of different study options available. You should note that it is also possible to find an entry level job within this field after you’ve finished your A Levels and acquire your knowledge as you work, but this can take years, and may leave you with very little flexibility in terms of the job market.
Studying agriculture at uni, however, will give you a decent head start in terms of your knowledge and your future employability. There are a number of different programmes available to study, but most of them will offer a general overview of the agricultural sector during your first year. From the second year, you will be encouraged to choose specific modules in subjects such as crop management, agricultural engineering or animal management – depending on what appeals to your interests.
Given the practical nature of the subject, work experience will play a key role in your course. Many universities offer a sandwich year (which will allow you to spend a year on placement in between your second and final years), and the Royal Agricultural College include a six-month placement as part of their course.
Why study Agriculture & Horticulture?
So if the option to simply learn on the job is there, is it really worth studying agriculture or horticulture at university? Well, one thing worth remembering is that a course within this field will provide you with an in-depth knowledge of the agricultural industry as a whole, allowing you to consider a number of different specialist subjects, and meaning your learning will be tailored to your personal interests.
Agriculture is a fascinating subject – particularly for those with a passion for the outdoors and an interest in business and science. It is also a really important industry, which means that if you work hard and do well in your degree, there will be a whole host of job opportunities waiting for you when you finish…
After your degree...
There are a number of different things that you can do after finishing your undergrad degree. If you enjoyed your time at university, you can study your chosen specialism in much more depth by taking on an MSc or even a PhD qualification and finding work within the research sector.
Alternatively, many new graduates find work in production, food education, and communication, as well as having the option to pursue careers in the health and safety sector. It is also possible to use an agriculture qualification to find jobs within government agencies or charities, and occasionally within the product testing and marketing sectors.
Q & A with a Plant Science BSc Graduate
Jennifer Cunliffe studied plant science at the University of Manchester...
Why did you choose to study plant science at university?
I was always interested in biology during school and in the first instance started on a straight biology degree when I got to university. However, after my first year I realised that the subjects I found most exciting where all related to plants, so I decided to specialise in plant science and changed over degree.
What was the most enjoyable aspect?
My degree was applied, which meant I spent the third year on a work placement. I was very lucky to secure a position at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew where I carried out research in the micromorphology group and used a variety of microscopy techniques to address questions about the evolutionary origin of flowers. The placement was fantastic and made me realise I could make a career out of doing research; I could not recommend doing a degree with a placement anymore highly.
What was the least enjoyable aspect?
Doing such a specialist degree (I only had 4 other course mates!) meant that I often struggled to find enough pure plant units to make up my degree and ended up taking a few random units that weren’t too relevant to my degree.
How do you think a plant science degree might help graduates seeking employment?
Agriculture, horticulture and plant science is such a growing sector as we are facing a huge challenge in how we can feed a growing population in the face of climate change. There are so many diverse skills this type of degree supplies and this offers a good breadth of employment opportunities e.g. farm management, research, food science, consultancy, sales, policy, and even a business related career.
How did the course prepare you for your job?
It covered quite a wide breadth of subjects in plant science and helped me find which area I was really interested in. Most importantly, my placement made me realise that I really wanted a career in research and I have since gone on to complete a PhD, and am now a researcher in plant biology at an agricultural research institute.
What would you like to go on to do in your career in the future?
Ideally, I would like to carry on in research, eventually securing funding to establish my own research group.