March 1, 2023

From Seed to STEM: The Need for Science-Minded Employees Grows in Agriculture

Help wanted for agricultural business. Comprehensive understanding of the scientific method required.

Would you be surprised if you saw that requirement in a job ad? You shouldn’t be! Agriculture has been the launch point for technological advancements for thousands of years. Finding ways to feed a civilization has long been a driving force in advancement throughout human existence. While much has changed in agricultural requirements, that core concept has remained the same. More than ever, society relies on farmers to create more from less while considering and accounting for environmental impacts into the production process. The needs of the corporate structure of agricultural organizations reflects the emergence of more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs within the org charts.

Today, there are more jobs requiring a high level of understanding in one or more areas of STEM in all levels of agriculture, and the need for rapid response in areas like water, climate, food safety and biological solutions means agriculture will continue to be an ever-adapting landscape for STEM-smart employees in all areas of the organization.

The following job titles are a few examples of the positions that grower operations—including Western Growers members—are requiring more and more:


Agronomy is a key science specific to agriculture. It is the area of agriculture that deals with field crop production and soil management. According to their job description, an agronomist must have “knowledge of plant and animal organisms, their tissues, cells, functions, interdependencies, and interactions with each other and the environment. Knowledge of the chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances. Knowledge of techniques and equipment for planting, growing, and harvesting food products for consumption, including storage/handling techniques.”

The tasks conducted by an agronomist on staff include conducting research in breeding, physiology, production; managing agricultural plants; studying the chemical, physical, biological and mineralogical composition of soil in relation to crop growth; and investigating effects of alternative practices on soil and crop productivity.

An individual looking to embark on a career as an agronomist must have a minimum of a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Automation Technician

The requirements for this automation technician position are a high school degree or an associate’s degree. In one job posting, the ideal candidate for this role should be able to “facilitate the installation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of computer-controlled irrigation and hydraulic systems. They will work regularly with low voltage electrical components, hydraulic controls, and other electro-mechanical devices (valves, pumps, filters, chemical injectors, etc.).”

An employee holding this position will need to have enough of a knowledge base to understand the automation software and systems to troubleshoot problems and keep detailed records as well as an understanding of engineering concepts to manage an array of technologies on the farm—irrigation, hydraulic controllers and wire systems for interconnected devices, to name a few.

Food Safety Manager

Having a food safety manager on staff isn’t a new addition to a successful agricultural team, but it continues to be a vital component that requires cutting-edge scientific knowledge. A food safety manager needs to have a deep understanding of the biological systems that contribute to ensuring a consumer-safe product.

A member of the food safety team oversees policies, procedures and programs associated with food safety. It is the responsibility of the Food Safety Manager to ensure that all preestablished standards are being followed and other members of the organization have access to resources and training to maintain those standards.

This role typically requires a bachelor’s degree in food science or biological science, though higher roles may require a more advanced education.

Industrial Engineering Technician

The Industrial Engineering Technician position is another role that supports and maintains the mechanical needs of the grower operation. One posting for this position notes that the individual hired will support the equipment in the field and the factory-based production equipment to identify and remedy any issues that arise and work to improve performance and utility of the machinery.

This hands-on engineering-based position requires an associate’s degree in engineering or a minimum of two years of engineering experience.

Mechatronics Technician

Mechatronics is “an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that focuses on the integration of mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering systems, and also includes a combination of robotics, electronics, computer science, telecommunications, systems, control, and product engineering.”

With new agtech being introduced to the market all the time, having a specialist on hand who has a background in industrial electricity management, mechanical components and their upkeep, and robotics is important.

Job opportunities within the mechatronic space range from a Mechatronics Technician to a Senior Mechatronics Engineer, with an education requirement of an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree, respectively.

R&D Manager

One source lists the attributes of an R&D Manager as someone who can “use creative abilities and research methods to develop programs that allow the improvement of existing products or their expansion into new markets, and the development of new products to meet the growth targets of the company.”

The role of the R&D Manager is to apply an intellectual and creative assessment of an organization’s needs. The right person for this kind of role will be able to report to senior management the technical needs of the company as well as developments within the market. As noted, the agtech opportunities are ever-changing, and an R&D Manager will be able to keep a watchful eye on offerings with a thought to how new products can integrate with the existing structure and know when and how to update existing products.

A background in data analysis is also important for a person in this role, as they will be required to input, organize, analyze and present R&D data to upper management.

The right candidate for a role like this will likely need a bachelor’s degree or above in plant science or agronomy and have five years of work experience managing R&D projects in specialty crops and have a comprehensive understanding of the scientific method.


One key shift in agricultural org charts has been at the executive level. Some titles that have shown up in the boardroom and even up to the C-suite in the past few years are VP of Technology, VP of Innovation and Chief Technology Officers. Western Growers’ Dennis Donohue, Executive Director of the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, says the adaptation of the corporate structure to make room for roles that specialize in technology and innovation in agriculture is important: “Food safety shifted from a department to a boardroom consideration after the spinach crisis.  I think Technology and Innovation is in the same category. It needs to be part of every organization’s strategic thinking and planning on a go-forward basis,” he said.

The shift in organizational mindset is necessary for the push of adjustment brought on by ever-changing  access to resources. Mechanization, data aggregation and biological solutions have limited utility without the right people to implement and understand them. The brightest minds may not yet look to farming as the best path to travel for a mentally challenging and invigorating career, but they should be. Better still, agricultural organizations should be looking to the valuable minds already participating in the growing process to provide the tools and resources to navigate a field that is becoming more STEM-reliant by the day.

For more information about job postings like these specific to agriculture, visit and