Career Guide: Agriculture and Food Science, and Veterinary
Everybody needs to eat, the world’s population is growing, and feeding the planet’s billions in a safe and sustainable way is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.
Agricultural science has been vital for the continued existence of humanity since the first wild plants and animals were domesticated in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ countries that dot the Middle East about 12,000 years ago and people abandoned the nomadic lifestyle.
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 continuing to be 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 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 farm and domestic settings. This isn’t about cute kittens but is 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
It’s safe to say UCD is the undisputed leader for agriculture, food science and veterinary courses. The university has great lecturers, the best research profiles and delivers 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 prepares students 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. Level 7 agriculture courses are available at Waterford IT, Dundalk IT, Ballyhaise Agricultural College, Cork IT and Clonakilty Agricultural College. UCD has Ireland’s only level 8 horticulture and agri-environmental sciences course, while IT Blanchardstown and Waterford IT 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 Waterford IT offers a level 7 forestry qualification.
There’s only one place in Ireland you can 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.
Ireland’s agri-food sector is a massive economic success story which continues to grow. It boasts a thriving export sector giving graduates of agriculture and food science 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 work in labs or research and development, or in areas 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.
Figures from Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, put a recently qualified agricultural science graduate working as a research officer on € 31,000.
The average full-time dairy farm income was € 69,000 in 2014 but Teagasc has forecast incomes could drop by as much as 50 per cent due to falling milk prices; it’s a sector currently dominated by uncertainty following the end of milk quotas. Average farm income in 2014 was just € 27,000.
Those who rise through the ranks to CEO or managing director in a small- to medium-sized food enterprise could earn up to € 150,000, while those heading up large firms could take in much more.
National salary data from Payscale indicates newly-qualified veterinary surgeons earn about € 35,000 a year, with more senior vets earning up to € 70,000. This can rise to as much as € 110,000, according to gradireland.
Starting salaries for forestry graduates are relatively high at about € 35,000 a year, rising to € 50,000-€ 60,000, according to the forestry body Coillte.