Precision agriculture represents one of the most exciting developments in farming for over a century. This innovative and technological approach to agriculture is set to transform traditional farming methods over the next 5-10 years, but only if farmers can find staff with the right blend of skills and knowledge to take advantage of it. This is good news for eager, tech-savvy millennials looking for a challenging and rewarding career in agriculture.
What is precision farming?
Precision agriculture roles are a far cry from the more traditional agricultural jobs. You won’t find yourself driving a tractor or feeding animals, but you will be collecting data which is vital for the farm's long-term efficiency and profitability.
Data is typically collected using drones or handheld sensors, which can then be processed and analysed using state-of-the-art software such as https://www.dronedeploy.com/ DroneDeploy. Point data and maps can then be combined to create actionable reports which allow farmers to identify and rectify problems such as poor irrigation, plant density, and disease which can directly affect crop yields and profitability.
Detailed crop data such as this has previously been out of reach for many small and medium-sized farms. Such farms struggle to compete with larger 10,000-acre farms which can afford to charter aircraft to collect the relevant crop data. Small commercial drones have levelled the playing field and allow smaller farmers to increase yields and compete with their larger rivals more effectively.
This has created a vibrant and fast-growing industry which is set to transform farming over the next decade.
Types of missions carried out by precision agricultural technicians
Collect data to create Normalized Difference Vegetation Index Maps (NDVI) which are used to monitor the health of crops.
Collect geological and geographical field data such as soil attributes which are used to plan crop rotations.
Create layer analysis maps which show soil characteristics and drainage channels which can be used to manage fertilizer and aid with irrigation management.
Compare yield data with soil sampling data to develop field-specific crop management plans.
Use analysis of geospatial data to recommend crop varieties and seeding rates for specific fields to maximise yield.
Cross-reference data from harvester monitors to ensure crop yields are in line with projections.
Compile true-to-scale ortho-mosaic maps to help give farm managers greater insight into how the farm's land is being utilised.
Help plan irrigation and floodplain maps which can help farmers understand how water is running off the land and where pesticides could enter the watercourse. This is vital for environmental and disaster planning.
Conduct climatological research which can be used to identify relationships between crop densities, soil analysis, light reflectance and weather patterns.
What skills do you need?
Because precision agriculture is a relatively new industry there is no standardised job description for it. You can find roles with job titles such as an agricultural technician, agronomist, agronomy consultant, crop specialist or precision agricultural specialist. Typically, the role advertised will be specific to the type of farming carried out, with jobs available across the full spectrum of the agricultural landscape, from forestry to small farmsteads.
But no matter which sector you want to work in, there are a few universal skills you will need to get a job in this profession including:
- Good computer skills
- Good communication skills
- The ability to document and record information
- Good analytical skills
- The ability to plan, organise and prioritize work
- Good team building skills
- Training and entry into the profession
There are a number of ways you can gain the necessary skills to enter the profession as an agricultural technician. To a large extent, the route you take will depend on your circumstances and the funds you have available. The most popular ways are listed below.
A number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses are available at universities across the UK. One of the most prestigious is the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester which offers a globally recognised MSc Agricultural Technology and Innovation course over 12 months.
At least 1 A level for a foundation degree
2 to 3 A levels for a postgraduate degree
A minimum 2:1 honours degree from a recognised or listed UK university or qualification of international equivalence from a comparable institution.
School leavers aged between 18-24 can do Level 2 or 3 apprenticeships which are available through a number of different employers or agricultural colleges including https://www.askham-bryan.ac.uk/ Askam Bryan. Apprenticeships last between two and three years and provide on the job training along with study in the latest farming technologies.
5 GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including maths and English, for an advanced Level 3 apprenticeship
College courses are also available at agricultural colleges across the UK which provide students with a Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma in Land-Based Technology. These courses are typically part-time and last between 2-3 years.
2 or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) for a level 2 course
4 or 5 GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) for a level 3 course
There is another way to gain entry into the profession without having to go to college or university. But this will require self-study along with paying for extra training and exams. One of the most cost-effective ways of doing this is to take a recognised agricultural drone training course which will provide you with the knowledge you need to collect data via drones and compile reports.
By obtaining your CAA PfCO drone license you will be one step ahead of other applicants and be able to land a job with a specialist farm contractor. Such contractors visit smaller farms on a regular basis to collect the necessary data and compile reports for farmers. This is one of the fastest growing sectors in the industry and provides many exciting opportunities for hard-working individuals.
How much can you earn?
Earnings start at around £15,000 for an apprentice or recent graduate, but progression is fast-paced with more experienced employees with three or more years experience commanding wages of up to £40,000.
Self-employed agricultural technicians can earn between £30 to £150 per hour. But you will need to take into account travel and equipment costs which can run into several thousand pounds a year.
If you are looking for a new job or to progress your career, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are worldwide recruitment experts in agricultural, food, farming and rural recruitment and have a variety of executive and management positions available within agriculture, horticulture and the food and rural sectors throughout the UK and the rest of the world. To find out more about our agricultural job vacancies and discuss your future career, contact our team of agricultural recruitment professionals. You can visit our website here: www.agriRS.co.uk or call our team on: 01905 345 155 or email us at: info@agriRS.co.uk
Alternatively, if you are a client looking to expand your team, whilst using a professional recruitment / headhunting solution, then please call us today on 01905 345155 or email us at: info@agriRS.co.uk