“The thin layer of soil covering the earth’s surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life.”
(Doran and Parkin, 1994)
As illustrated by the above quote, soil is an essential component to sustaining life on planet Earth; certainly, as with all animals, humans depend absolutely upon soil, to ensure a supply of food produce that is stable and secure.
What is Soil?
All types of soil are, at the most fundamental level, comprised of the following natural elements: rock minerals, organic matter, air and water; and put simply, soils are formed via the interactions of five decisive factors: parent material (rocks/rock minerals), climate (temperature and moisture), topography (shape of the Earth/land), organisms/biota (dead plants and animals, and living organisms), and time (soil takes time to form). In addition, given that parent rock materials are different, for instance, a given rock could be granite or basalt, different types of soil can develop, consisting of varying physical properties (e.g., granite rocks form soils that are of a sandy consistency, whilst basalts form soils that are clayey).
Why are Soils Important?
As pointed out above, soil and indeed, good soil health, is absolutely crucial for humans and animals, specifically, in terms of food production. Certainly, soil provides water, oxygen, nutrients and root support; the key elements for promoting favourable growing conditions. In addition, soil plays host to a hugely diverse range of organisms, performing many important natural functions; including, improving soil structure, pest, disease and weed control, and reprocessing essential nutrients. All of which, is vital for the healthy growth and development of plants and thus, more broadly, the production of all food.
Hence, the preservation of soil is a vital aspect to ensuring the continued survival of life on planet Earth. Accordingly, with the ongoing climate crisis and the ever-growing demand on global food production and supply, the expertise of soil scientists will be crucial for the agriculture industry and indeed, humanity, moving forward.
Working as a Soil Scientist.
In essence, working as a soil scientist involves a mixture of field and laboratory work, sampling and analysing different types of soils in diverse geographical locations, to ascertain the physical structure and chemical / nutrient properties of soils, which in turn, aids in providing many practical applications in agriculture and farming. For instance, in terms of assessing the impact of different soil types and soil compositions, on different crops.
In addition, the work of soil scientists often plays an integral part in accessing the viability of projects in other industries; for example, conservation, landscaping, construction and archaeology. Therefore, it is evident that the work of soil scientists can be extremely varied and they can be employed in both public and private sector organisations; from farming, agriculture and construction businesses, to conservation charities, research centres, and government agencies.
How to Pursue a Career as a Soil Scientist
Pursuing a career as a soil scientist obviously, requires a keen, initial interest in the natural sciences – Earth science, Geology, Chemistry, Biology, and of course, Soil Science. Certainly, therefore, a career in soil science, will necessitate a good background in formal educational. As a minimum, soil scientists require a solid undergraduate degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant subject. Although, soil scientists would generally be expected to also hold a postgraduate qualification – an MSc or PhD.
In addition to a good education, as with all industries, “hands-on” experience is also advantageous to pursuing a career as a soil scientist. Entry level, part-time, or even volunteer work on an arable farm producing fresh produce, for example, would provide you with invaluable insight into the role of soil and indeed the soil scientist, in food production.
How Much Money do Soil Scientists Make (in the UK)?
Starting salaries generally range from anywhere between £16,000 to £25,000.
Experienced Soil Scientists earn in the region of £25,000 to £35,000.
The most experienced, senior soil scientists can earn up to £55,000.
It should be pointed out that, the above is merely a guide - salaries will vary greatly, depending upon the sector.
As with any job or career, you should not base your aspirations and career direction merely on monetary return. Arguably, your interest and passion for a given vocation, should be the decisive motivating factor - the money will follow. Certainly, Soil Scientists have generally chosen such a niche career path, because of their interest in and passion for, the importance of soil, in maintaining life.
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