A career in agricultural consultancy will appeal to you if you're interested in rural issues and enjoy advising and supporting others
Agricultural consultants and advisers work to ensure their clients' businesses or enterprises are running as efficiently as possible. They must be aware of the business and legislative implications of their advice.
Clients may include:
- conservation organisations
- public bodies
- other agricultural businesses in manufacturing and services.
Types of agricultural consultant
As an agricultural consultant, you'll usually consult on either technical or business matters.
Technical consultants provide specialist advice on:
- environment and conservation
- waste management
- other technical applications.
Business consultants help with:
- business planning
- estate and financial management advice for agricultural businesses and farms
- personnel management.
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 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.
- Starting salaries for consultants and advisers range from £20,000 to £27,000.
- With two to five years' experience, you could earn between £27,000 and £40,000.
- Experienced consultants with five or more years of experience typically earn £30,000 to £50,000+.
Significant performance bonuses of up to £20,000 can be paid in the private sector.
Charities and public sector organisations may pay less than private consultancies.
Agricultural consultancy or advisory work is usually project based, so you may be paid an hourly rate or an acreage fee if working in the appropriate capacity.
Benefits may include a company car.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours can be demanding and varied, depending on the season and clients' needs. Regular hours of 9am-5pm are uncommon, 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 can vary depending on the role. For example, crop consultancy involves spending the majority of your time out of the office, while a research role means more time spent in a laboratory.
- Self-employment is an option, once you've gained experience and established a network of contacts. It's common to work from home if you're self-employed.
- Opportunities are spread throughout the UK and as a new entrant to the industry you may need to be flexible about the location of your 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's 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.
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
- 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 considered to be the most relevant subjects.
If you want to enter the technical side of agricultural consultancy, a Masters in a subject such as animal production or seed and crop technology may be helpful. If your research is in an area in which you will offer specialist advice, you may also consider completing a PhD.
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.
You will need to have:
- good 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 full driving licence
- good attention to detail and accurate record keeping.
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's 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.
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:
- agricultural and environmental consultancies, such as ADAS
- charitable organisations, such as the National Trust, and environmental and conservation bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and wildlife trusts
- commercial companies supplying products, equipment and services to the industry
- farming cooperatives
- not-for-profit international organisations, such as the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI)
- property firms that have specialist agricultural divisions
- the public sector, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and its Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).
Once you've gained enough experience you'll also have the option of setting yourself up as 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:
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.
If you're a consultant working on the technical side of agricultural consultancy you may need to undergo specific training. For example, for crop consultancy this could be 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 one or two days in length to intensive, long-term programmes, such as the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection.
As an independent consultant, it's 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 development and structure varies across the different types of employing organisations. In commercial agricultural consultancies your salary may be determined by your performance and revenue earned. In the public and charity sector, your development is likely to be linked to performance and level of responsibility.
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, although setting up your own consultancy may be the ultimate step in an agriculturally-based career.
Opportunities to lecture at a university or college may also be possible with the appropriate qualifications and experience.