Historically, agricultural knowledge was passed on from farmer to farmhand without any formal education. Today, budding farmers might consider getting a college degree in agricultural studies. However, before you do so, you’ll probably need to ask yourself whether getting a degree in agriculture is difficult.
Agriculture isn’t more difficult to study than other majors that include math and science. Depending on your concentration of study, you may require harder or easier classes. Botany students require specialized science and math, while horticulture is more accessible to non-science students.
This article will go into more detail as to what getting an agriculture degree is like in terms of difficulty. We’ll also explore in detail some of the courses agriculture students may need to take.
Is Agriculture Hard To Study?
Agriculture isn’t hard to study in general, especially if you already have experience working with plants and soil. However, “agriculture” is a catch-all term for a complex field encompassing many different jobs and disciplines and the difficulty of your studies will depend on your specialization.
“Ag” is a common way to shorten “agriculture” in academia, and we’ll occasionally use this nickname here.
The difficulty of your specific degree will heavily depend on what you have chosen to study. Most ag degrees fall into two categories: horticulture and botany. Let’s dive into how these two disciplines are different, and how one is usually harder than the other.
Horticulture involves studying how to cultivate plants. This involves designing farms and fields for growing, as well as landscaping and general plant knowledge. If you’re looking to start your own farm, horticulture is probably where you want to focus.
The difficulty of horticultural degrees strongly depends on what specialization you want to pursue. Horticulture opens up the possibility of a variety of careers, from designing lawns for ornamental purposes to growing fruits and vegetables in a garden.
Generally speaking, however, horticultural degrees are slightly easier than botany degrees. They require fewer science classes and instead focus on the practical use and development of plants.
Botany is the science of growing plants. Botanists are focused on the chemical requirements of various plants, including what kind of nutrients they need and how much sunlight they should be taking in.
Botanists work in both the field and the lab. They’re involved in things like genetic modifications or altering the genetic make-up of a plant to make it more nutritious, tastier, or more aesthetically pleasing and are also often involved in conservation efforts.
Botany is typically more difficult than horticulture. You’ll need more math and specialized science classes and will generally need more theory than practical knowledge.
As Ag degrees become more and more popular, they often don’t split neatly into two separate categories. In fact, you might apply to one of the most prestigious programs in the country and find no horticulture or botany major at all.
However, most of these “offshoot” Ag degrees will technically fall into one of these two categories.
For example, Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is one of the best programs in the United States for ag degrees, but you won’t see Botany or Horticulture on their list of majors.
Instead, you’ll find things like Food Science and Landscape Contracting. These fall under the umbrellas of botany and horticulture, respectively, but are much more specialized.
When considering how difficult these offshoot degrees are, think about whether you’re working with the chemistry and growth of plants or the development of land. That’ll help you determine whether the degree is botany or horticulture, and therefore help you figure out how difficult the degree will be.
What Subjects Are Needed To Study Agriculture?
The subjects needed to study agriculture will revolve around keeping your plants healthy at various stages of the production process. Botany typically focuses on the biology of the plants, while horticulture revolves around the environment in which the plants are being grown.
Keep in mind that there will probably be some overlap between the classes you and other agricultural students need to take. Horticultural students need a basic understanding of botany and vice versa.
Let’s look at the classes you’ll need to think about taking if you’re getting an agriculture degree.
General Education Classes
No matter what kind of agricultural degree you intend to pursue, you’ll probably need to take some general education courses. You may question why a farmer needs to take on subjects like English or math, but you’ll find that a basic understanding of these subjects will help you no matter what job you end up in.
Here are some of the general education classes you’ll probably need for an Ag degree:
- Basic Chemistry: Chemistry is a necessity for any agriculture student as finding out what kind of nutrients plants need to thrive is critical to running a successful agriculture business. This is where farmers with a degree might have the edge over their competition.
- Biology: Plant biology goes hand-in-hand with plant chemistry, as you can learn more about the ecosystem that you’ll be developing.
- Math: All Ag majors will probably need to take math courses up to the level of algebra.
- English & Composition: Pretty much every field of academic study in the United States requires a few basic reading and writing classes. Even if you plan on working exclusively in the fields, you’ll probably need to write a letter or email at some point.
- Humanities: More for rounding out your education than anything else, classes in the humanities are generally not too difficult for agricultural students.
- Computers: Hand-drawn maps and schematics aren’t used much anymore. Instead, computer systems are becoming more advanced and easy to use and are essential for people in most careers. You’ll probably need to familiarize yourself with GIS or geographic information systems.
Botany majors will be focused on the science and chemistry of plant growth. Here are some classes you may end up taking as a botanist:
- Plant Studies: Various kinds of crops and plants will have their very own classes, so you can take a deep dive into the specific requirements of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and trees.
- Soils: Believe it or not, you may need to take more than one soil class. These will focus on the different types of soils that plants can be grown in, their chemical compositions, and which types of soils should be paired with which plants.
- Geography: Geography is critical for botanists because where a plant is grown will greatly impact what it needs to survive.
- Agroecology: Agroecology is where ethical and environmental practices meet agriculture. You’ll look at how to use the resources of an environment to minimize any unnatural impact. You’ll also address climate change.
- Advanced Chemistry: A botanist may not have to take chemistry to the highest level, but they’ll need more chemistry credits than a horticultural major.
Source: Soil Association
Horticulture majors need more math classes and fewer chemistry classes. They also will find that their classes are less theoretical and more hands-on.
Again, note that there might be some overlap between horticulture and botany classes and that these are by no means the only classes you’ll take:
- Landscaping: No matter whether you’re planning on working on a large-scale or small-scale, you’ll be taking a landscaping class as a horticulturist.
- Business: As landscape designers, horticulturists are much more likely to be involved in business dealings than botanists. Business classes will help you balance costs.
- Geometry: Geometry is critical to landscapers and farmers. If you want to utilize your space in the most effective way when you design a farm, you’ll need to be versed in geometry.
- Hydroponics: Hydroponics is a relatively new science that uses water instead of soil as the primary growing medium. Because this growing method is pest-resistant, cost-effective, and can be operated year-round, hydroponics is becoming more and more popular among horticulturists.
Jobs You Can Get With an Agricultural Degree?
Getting an education is meant to both enrich your life and ensure that you’re able to support yourself as an adult. Luckily for Ag majors, an agricultural degree is one of the most practical degrees available.
Everyone associates a few career paths with agricultural degrees, but many people don’t know how many doors can be opened with this field of study.
Let’s take a look at some of the other jobs you can get with this major after you graduate:
- Farmer: If you tell your friends that you’ve decided to major in agriculture, this is the first place their minds will go to. Farmers of all kinds can benefit from an Ag degree.
- Landscaper: Landscaping encompasses more careers than you think. Many public spaces require a designer for their grass and plants. Some of the most popular concentrations for ag majors are Turf Management and Golf Course Management.
- Greenhouses, garden centers, & nurseries: These small shops are found all across America. Not everyone working at these stores will have a formal education, so an Ag major will have the opportunity to make themselves indispensable.
- Medicinal plant industry: Are you passionate about human health as well as plant health? There are dozens of medicinal plant companies that could use a fresh eye. Botanists, in particular, will thrive in this industry.
- Agricultural businesses: Agriculture businesses don’t just need farmers, they also need people who are well-versed in plants and farms that can also balance a checkbook and keep track of inventory. Ag degrees pair extremely well with business or accounting degrees.
- Government Agencies: If you want to make an impact on the agriculture business, getting into government work is a sure way to make your voice heard. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is always looking for educated agriculturalists.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
These are by no means the only careers you can pursue with an agricultural degree. Most manufacturing jobs require at least one person on board who has some experience with the natural materials they’re working with.
If you have a potential career in mind and want to know if an Ag degree can help you get there, reach out to someone in the field and ask what kind of experience they recommend. They’ll be able to tell you if you need a degree or not.
Other Education Options for Future Farmers
Unlike other fields of study, a degree isn’t a prerequisite for many agricultural jobs. Many farmers skip the formal degree and launch right into a career.
There’s no question that getting an education opens up a world of higher-paying agriculture jobs for you. However, if you decide that an agriculture degree isn’t for you but still want to work in the industry, there are other ways to get the education you need for the job you want, including:
- Grow a garden from scratch. Growing a garden from scratch might be all the experience you need if you plan to work on small-scale landscaping projects rather than large-scale food production. Do some research and start growing your own garden, filled with the kinds of plants you’d like to work with.
- Practical experience on a farm. This is the number one way that farmers are trained for their jobs, even today. Learning how to work with the land and plants that another farmer has put into place can do wonders for new blood.
- Certification programs. Some agricultural businesses may need you to have some formal education but don’t require a four-year degree. Take a look at colleges in your area and see if they offer any two-year certification programs.
Agriculture isn’t any harder to study than other majors that require chemistry and math. Just like any other field of study, you’ll find some classes easy and others much harder. If you’re dedicated to learning the art of agriculture, learn to push through the difficult classes. The coursework should be rewarding even when it’s difficult.