Farming by numbers – maths + agriculture

Kanika Singh, soil scientist and research fellow at the University of Sydney.

Is ag your jam? Then you’re going to need strong maths and data skills.

Agriculture is the practice of cultivating soil, growing crops and raising livestock. And at its core is a bunch of maths and data.

“A number of concepts in statistics and maths are extensively used in various fields of agriculture, such as soil science, animal and crop production, agricultural engineering and agricultural economics,” says Kanika Singh, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, who is currently working on optimising soil management and health in Papua New Guinea.

Agriculture also relies on a range of data sources. Think weather and climate data
for forecasting; sensor data for info on soil, temperature, humidity, rainfall, sunlight and farm equipment; animal and plant genomics research data; plus remotely sensed data through satellites and drones.

How do agriculturalists make sense of all that data? Statistical modelling combined with maths, according to Kanika.

RELATED: Harvesting good data with digital agriculture

Finding your field

When it comes to career paths, you’re spoilt for choice. Options include water and irrigation engineering, soil science, plant and crop physiology (in agronomy and horticulture), agricultural extension and education, biosystems and machineries, and animal science.

“The agriculture domain is quite dynamic, diverse and responsive to consumers of today, especially when it concerns people’s health and ethics,” says Kanika.

Cultivating your interest

So what’s the best way to start your agriculture journey? Besides taking all the science classes you can in high school, you should also get involved in citizen science. This will give you the opportunity to actively contribute to research initiatives while gaining cool new skills and knowledge.

It’s also awesome for building communities and connections. “Citizen science enables members of the public to contribute to research as partners in knowledge generation,” says Kanika. ““For example, at the University of Sydney a real-world research project that evaluates soil health (simply using a tea bag!) offers students a chance to get their hands dirty and learn the importance of maths in soil science.”

RELATED: Space + agriculture: bringing space jobs down to Earth

Start your career here

Maths + agriculture study

  • Bachelor of Agriculture / Graduate Certificate in Science (Mathematics), Charles Sturt University
  • Bachelor of Agriculture / Bachelor of Science (Mathematics and Statistics), The University of Melbourne
  • Bachelor of Agricultural Science / Bachelor of Science (Mathematics), University of Tasmania
  • Bachelor of Business / Agribusiness, La Trobe University

Maths + agriculture jobs

  • Agricultural engineer: $46K-$173K
  • Biochemist: $52K-$236K
  • Environmental engineer: $55K-$103K
  • Soil scientist: $50K-$87K

Salaries according to payscale.com

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Maths & Data 2021.

Louise Meers

Author: Louise Meers

Louise is the production editor for Careers with STEM. She has a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney and has spent over a decade writing for youth. She is passionate about inspiring young people to achieve their biggest goals.

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