University subject profile: agriculture, forestry and food

What you’ll learn
Agriculture may date back to the bronze age, but food production is as relevant today as it has ever been, with issues including food security, sustainability, food poverty and even synthetically manufactured meat among the most pressing of our time.

How can agricultural systems adapt to the climate crisis? How can the competing demands of food supply and environmental sustainability be achieved? What is the position of UK agriculture in world production and food supply? These are the kinds of questions you’ll gain insight into with a degree in agriculture, forestry or food, subjects which have gained in popularity in recent years.

These degree courses incorporate a wide range of disciplines – from science (biology, chemistry, physics, biosciences and social sciences), environmental studies and food technology, to economics and management. By the time you graduate, you’ll be brimming with professional skills and a wide-ranging knowledge base.

How you’ll learn
Expect lots of hands-on learning. Some courses are based on rural campuses, so you can get out in the field and put theory into practice. Others are based on large campuses with access to university farms as well as a conventional campus atmosphere, with students studying a range of courses. If practical skills are your focus, pick a university such as Harper Adams, which offers a one-year work placement.

As well as the usual lectures and seminars, you may find yourself undertaking laboratory work, learning about topics such as plant biology or disease. You may also need to get to grips with different computer programs for applying statistical techniques to agricultural data.

As well as learning from staff involved in cutting-edge research, most courses will expect you to complete your own research through a dissertation project. It’s also worth asking about the links different departments have with industry – some will offer the chance to spend a year with a business, as well as holiday work opportunities which include lambing and harvest jobs.

Entry requirements
Some courses prefer one or more A-levels (or equivalent) in science. Other relevant subjects include biology, geography, environmental sciences, maths and economics. More competitive courses will want you to prove your enthusiasm through, for example, membership of a local conservation group. Entry grades vary, so check university websites.

What job can you get?
The UK farming industry regularly appears to be in crisis – most recently with budget shortfalls brought about by Brexit and labour shortages during coronavirus – but government strategies aimed at attracting the next generation to the field mean there should be plenty of opportunities for fresh graduates. Many will find themselves working in farm management, research and advisory work. Those with an interest in sales and marketing could land roles dealing with agricultural products, such as animal feed or fertiliser.

Students with more of an interest in food sciences could become dieticians, food technologists, scientists or product developers.

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