Everyone needs to eat so a career in agriculture or food science is a good bet

Career Guide: Agriculture and Food Science, and Veterinary

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 01:00

How do we feed the world’s growing population of billions in a safe and sustainable way? Agricultural science has been vital for the continued existence of human beings since the first wild plants and animals were domesticated in the “Fertile Crescent” countries that dot the Middle East around 12,000 years ago and people abandoned the nomadic lifestyle.

Agriculture, not science, medicine, humanities, law or commerce, has been the foundation of human civilisation ever since.

Agricultural science students study both natural sciences, including chemistry and biology, and social sciences such as economics, business and management. They may focus on animals or crops, or a mixture of both. Or they may explore a career in food science, with agri-food now one of the biggest areas of economic growth for Ireland.

Horticulture is an excellent choice for anyone interested in plants and gardening, providing training for careers in landscape design, garden centres and nurseries, fruit and vegetable growing, and parks and garden management. Students with an interest in the great outdoors and nature may also be interested in a forestry course, where they will learn about the science and management of commercial and natural forests.

Veterinary science students, meanwhile, work with animals in both farm and domestic settings. Forget any romantic notions of cute kittens – it’s a career not just for people who care about animals but those who have an interest in biology and health and are willing to get their hands dirty – or bitten.

Where to study

By a very clear mile, UCD is the undisputed leader for agriculture, food scienc

e and veterinary courses. The university has some great lecturers, with the best research profiles, delivering the widest range of courses. In first year, students can plump for a general entry agriculture course, before moving on to specialise in animal and crop production, animal science, engineering technology, or food and agribusiness management.

Alternatively, students who know the area they would like to specialise in can choose one of the four options on their CAO form.

UCD’s dairy business course provides students with everything they need to know to work in the dairy industry, while the animal science (equine) course equips graduates for a career in Ireland’s thriving horse industry.

UCD is not the only option for agricultural science, with WIT also proving particularly strong. Level 7 agriculture courses are available at WIT, Dundalk IT and Ballyhaise Agricultural College, and CIT and Clonakilty Agricultural College. UCD has Ireland’s only Level 8 Horticulture and Agri-Environmental Sciences course, while IT Blanchardstown and WIT have Level 7 horticulture courses.

UCD also has a suite of food science courses. The BSc in Food Science provides graduates with the scientific knowledge needed to produce high-quality, safe and nutritious foods for a global market, exploring all aspects of the food chain.

The BSc in Human Nutrition explores the interaction between food and health, and covers nutritional sciences, food regulation, nutrition communication, biochemistry, and molecular and public health nutrition.

UCD also offers Ireland’s only Level 8 forestry course, while WIT offers a Level 7 forestry qualification.

There’s only one place to become a veterinary surgeon and that’s UCD.

However, veterinary nursing courses are available in Letterkenny IT, Dundalk IT, Athlone IT and UCD.

Students should note many of UCD’s agriculture and food science courses require students to have a laboratory science subject (physics, chemistry, physics and chemistry, biology, agricultural science) in their Leaving Cert.

Career opportunities

Ireland’s agri-food sector is a massive economic success story, with a thriving export sector giving graduates of agriculture and food science courses excellent long-term employment prospects.

Demand for courses is growing as students see a chance for a sustainable career with strong promotional prospects.

Agricultural science graduates don’t just dig fields.

They are just as likely to be working in labs or research and development offices, working on issues related to development, global food systems and supply, genetics, environmental sustainability, disease and poverty, in food production, or developing new ideas in business.

Veterinary science graduates have almost full employment.

For forestry graduates, future employment prospects depend on the level of investment in forestation across Ireland, but current employment prospects are good,with an estimated 16,000 jobs in the sector.

Salary expectations

Figures from Teagasc,

the agriculture and food development authority, put a recently qualified agricultural science graduate working as a research officer on €35,254.

The average full time dairy farm income was €64,000 in 2013. At the top, with many years’ experience, salaries can be high, with a CEO or managing director in a small- to medium-sized food enterprise earning up to €150,000, while those heading up large firms could take in €350,000 per year.

Newly-qualified veterinary surgeons are paid around €35,000 a year. More senior veterinary surgeons typically earn €50,000-€60,000, although this can rise to as much as € 110,000, according to gradireland.

Starting salaries for forestry graduates are relatively high at around €35,000 per year, rising to €50,000-€60,000.

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