A career in agricultural consultancy may appeal to you if you are interested in rural issues and would enjoy advising and supporting clients

Agricultural consultants and advisers solve problems for their clients, to ensure their business or enterprise is running as efficiently as possible. They must be aware of the business and legislative implications of their advice.

Clients may include:

  • farmers;
  • growers;
  • landowners;
  • conservation organisations;
  • public bodies;
  • other agricultural businesses in manufacturing and services.

Types of agricultural consultant

As an agricultural consultant, you would usually consult on either technical or business matters.

Technical consultants provide specialist advice on:

  • agronomy;
  • environment and conservation;
  • livestock;
  • nutrition;
  • waste management;
  • other technical applications.

Business consultants help with:

  • business planning;
  • estate and financial management advice for agricultural businesses and farms;
  • personnel management.

Responsibilities

As an agricultural consultant, you’ll need to:

  • visit clients to identify and evaluate their business and/or technical requirements;
  • assist clients with business planning, planning applications, government grant applications, legislative advice and new business ventures;
  • collect and analyse data, crop yield and financial reports to measure performance;
  • prepare or modify business or operating plans;
  • organise and conduct field trials to find solutions to clients' problems;
  • plan and implement improvements for the client such as using more effective pest control measures or finding more efficient ways to keep and feed livestock;
  • organise presentations, demonstrations, training and farm walks for clients, colleagues, partnership organisations, professional bodies and other interested groups;
  • communicate effectively, both in writing and orally, with clients, colleagues and members of the public;
  • write advisory leaflets, technical notes and possibly press releases and articles;
  • market and promote consultancy services to new customers, while maintaining existing client relationships;
  • research and keep up to date with any relevant developments in agriculture;
  • carry out administrative duties, manage budgets and accounts, update information and prepare reports.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for consultants and advisers range from £20,000 to £27,000.
  • With two to five years' experience salaries range from £27,000 up to £40,000.
  • Experienced consultants with five or more years of experience earn £30,000 to £50,000+.

Significant performance bonuses of up to £20,000 can be paid in the private sector.

Advisers and consultants working for charities and in the public sector may earn less than those working in private consultancies.

Agricultural consultancy and advisory work is mainly project-based and consultants may be paid an hourly rate or an acreage fee. Hourly rates, typically for short visits, vary between £35 and £150, depending on the type of consultancy provided and the level of experience the consultant has. Acreage fees tend to be used when consultants have a long-term relationship with a farm or business and vary between £4 and £5 per acre.

Benefits may include a company car.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours can be demanding and varied, depending on the season and clients' needs. Regular hours of nine to five are not common as clients may need to meet in the evenings or at weekends. Unsocial hours are typically worked especially in busy periods.

Part-time work and career breaks are possible for established advisers.

What to expect

  • Working time is usually split between the office and the outdoors, although this does vary depending on the role. For example, a crop consultant can expect to spend the majority of their time out of the office, while if research or analysis is part of the role time spent in a laboratory can be expected.
  • Opportunities for self-employment exist for those with experience and an established network of contacts. Self-employed consultants and advisers often work from home.
  • Opportunities are spread throughout the UK and individuals new to the industry need to be flexible about the location of their job.
  • Although previously a male-dominated occupation, more women are now entering the profession.
  • As a large proportion of time is spent away from the office visiting clients, it is not uncommon to spend long periods of time travelling alone by car. Absence from home overnight depends on the nature of the current job or project.

Qualifications

A degree in agriculture or another relevant subject is usually required. The following subjects may increase your chances:

  • agricultural engineering;
  • animal or biological science;
  • crop and plant science;
  • environmental science;
  • horticulture;
  • soil science.

Studying business management as part of a relevant degree course can be advantageous, particularly if you want to enter the business side of consultancy.

Entry is sometimes possible with an HND, although considerable relevant experience is also usually required. Agriculture and horticulture sciences are the subjects considered most relevant.

A Masters in a subject such as animal production or seed and crop technology may be advantageous for those wanting to enter the technical side. A PhD may also help, especially if your research is in an area in which you will offer specialist advice.

It may be possible to enter into the business side of consultancy with a business degree backed up with knowledge and experience of the agricultural industry. Postgraduate business qualifications are not likely to give a particular advantage.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • communication skills, for establishing and developing relationships with clients;
  • marketing, negotiation and advisory skills, for the development of new business opportunities and the building of a client base;
  • technical and analytical skills with the ability to explain findings clearly;
  • the ability to work on your own initiative and as part of a team;
  • financial skills and the ability to manage budgets;
  • a driving licence;
  • good attention to detail and accurate record keeping.

Work experience

Entry into agricultural consultancy and advisory work is competitive. A broad knowledge of agriculture and farm management is essential, as is experience of working in the industry. Without relevant experience it is difficult to find a way into an advisory or consultancy post.

Try to gain practical experience of farm management, rural surveying or planning, or other types of agricultural work. Speculative applications are often essential for trainee jobs and work experience opportunities, as many of these vacancies go unadvertised. Research potential employers thoroughly to ensure you make an informed application.

Employers

Some of the larger agricultural consultancies offer graduate recruitment schemes, generally focusing on farm management and agricultural business. These are usually advertised as they become available. The development of a strong CV and cover letter is essential, along with the ability to develop a network of contacts.

The main types of employment for agricultural consultants and advisers are:

There is also the opportunity to be a self-employed consultant. The Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) has over 200 members.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as De Lacy Executive also handle vacancies.

Agricultural colleges and university schools of agriculture usually have established contacts within the industry and may have information on job vacancies.

For a list of agricultural consultancies and contacts that may be useful for speculative applications see:

Professional development

The training offered by agricultural consultancies varies depending on the size of the company and the needs of the business. It may involve in-house training supervised by a senior and more experienced colleague, or be a mixture of external short courses and project work.

Consultants working in the technical side of agricultural consultancy may need to undergo specific training. For example, those involved in crop consultancy may need to undertake training for the Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme (FACTS), which provides a recognised level of competence for those involved in nutrient management advice.

Training and qualifications are also offered by Basis (Registration) Ltd for people working in the agricultural, amenity, fertiliser and environmental industries. Courses range from short one or two-day courses to intensive long-term courses, such as the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection.

As an independent consultant, it is your responsibility to keep up to date both in your specialist area and in the agricultural sector overall. This is done mainly through personal contacts, short courses and attendance at conferences, and through membership of professional bodies, such as the BIAC and the AICC.

Career prospects

Career development and structure varies across the different types of employing organisations. In commercial agricultural consultancies it depends largely on performance and revenue earned, but is also affected by the size of the employing organisation. In smaller consultancies, the possibility of promotion to more senior roles may be limited and relocation or specialisation will be required.

Career progression is likely to be from junior consultant to senior consultant, then to team leader with the possibility of an invitation to become a partner or director. There is no set career structure for the independent consultant, although setting up your own consultancy may be the ultimate step in an agriculturally-based career.

For those based in the public sector and within charitable organisations, career development is likely to be linked to performance and increased responsibility, with the possibility of promotion to team leader and management positions. Progression to management roles may involve less time out in the field and more time in the office.

Opportunities to lecture at a university or college may also be possible for those with the appropriate qualifications and experience.