If the idea of combining specialist horticultural knowledge with shrewd business acumen sounds appealing, then horticultural consultancy may be for you

Horticultural consultants advise a range of commercial businesses and public sector organisations on aspects relating to the development and maintenance of their crops, parklands and other public spaces such as gardens.

As well as technical advice, the role may involve business consultancy on issues regarding the successful development of products and resources, and on finding effective solutions to problems.

Clients may include:

  • farmers
  • commercial growers specialising in protected growing and field crops, or flowers
  • plant and tree nurseries
  • leisure and conservation organisations or public bodies involved in the restoration, operation and maintenance of parks
  • botanical and public gardens and other public spaces.

Responsibilities

As a horticultural consultant, you'll need to:

  • visit horticultural clients on site, identify their business or technical problems and investigate causes
  • analyse yields and the financial returns of existing commercial horticultural operations
  • prepare new or modified operational strategies and business plans
  • analyse horticultural and operational costs and the benefits resulting from existing or proposed public amenities and leisure locations
  • conduct environmental assessments, taking into consideration the environmental impact of any developments
  • visit historical sites, research old plans and documents, and plan restoration programmes
  • design layouts and plan planting programmes for ornamental gardens or tree planting programmes with local authority officers
  • design supply chain systems and support the infrastructure for processing, storage and transport
  • formulate solutions, plan and organise trials to assess their effectiveness
  • organise presentations, technical visits and demonstrations
  • help clients meet the requirements of legislative regulations concerning quality, hygiene and employment
  • provide expert opinion for planning appeals and litigation
  • communicate with clients, colleagues and professional groups, through briefings, technical and operational reports and presentations
  • write advisory leaflets, specifications and technical manuals
  • carry out marketing activities to promote the consultancy
  • maintain essential administrative records, including budgets and accounts
  • keep up to date in specialist areas and with developments in land-based sectors.

Salary

  • Starting salaries are usually around £18,000 to £21,000.
  • Horticultural managers can earn from £22,000 to £45,000+.
  • The range of salaries for independent consultants, employed by agricultural and horticultural management consultancy firms after 10 to 15 years in the role, are usually around £35,000 to £65,000. Salaries may be higher for those who reach partnership level. Self-employed consultants, running their own businesses, will generally take home a salary of £30,000 to £40,000.

Much horticultural consultancy is project-based, with fees calculated according to time spent. A daily rate or an agreed fee is negotiated for advice given and reports produced within a time frame. However, agronomists or crop specialists may charge per hectare or acre of land.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary with client demand and may be long and unsocial. Part-time work and career breaks are possible once a strong client base has been established.

What to expect

  • At times, you will be exposed to the extremes of the weather - wind, rain, sun, etc.
  • Your workload may vary according to the season.
  • Many consultants work from home and report to an office, which is usually based in an urban centre. Home is the office for most independent consultants.
  • Travel within a working day is common; up to 75% of working time may be spent out of the office, travelling and on site.
  • Self-employment in the form of a consultancy business is a viable option once you have gained considerable experience.

Qualifications

It is common for a horticultural consultant to specialise in one area. The main areas of horticultural consultancy are:

  • business consultancy
  • technical consultancy in commercial horticulture, e.g. offering specialist advice on crop management
  • technical consultancy in amenity horticulture, e.g. offering suggestions for the maintenance of public parks
  • sports turf consultancy
  • landscaping and interior landscaping.

The following degree and HND subjects are considered the most relevant for this career:

  • agriculture;
  • agricultural engineering;
  • crop and plant science
  • environmental science
  • horticulture
  • soil science.

Entry into consultancy without significant practical experience of the horticultural industry is difficult, so opportunities for new graduates are less common. In many cases, at least ten years' practical experience is needed. Many people enter this career after developing their own business as a grower or acquiring much needed technical expertise in industry or research.

Occasionally, however, agricultural or horticultural consultancies may advertise posts open to graduates without direct relevant experience; these are usually at technical assistant or assistant consultant level.

In addition, colleges and university schools of agriculture and horticulture that also offer advisory services sometimes employ postgraduate students as assistants on client-based projects.

Some training programmes exist, such as the Management Development Services (MDS) scheme, which recruits and trains new graduates on behalf of a consortium of employers in the fresh food and produce sector. The consortium includes growers, suppliers and retailers and offers a two-year fast-track programme of management training, leading to a Postgraduate Certificate in Food and Fresh Produce Management.

ADAS also offers graduate programmes from time to time and occasionally advertises new positions.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication skills, selling ability, initiative and tact
  • a high level of competence in project management, to meet agreed deadlines and operate within agreed budgets
  • business awareness and a practical approach to problem solving
  • an awareness of the problems encountered in commercial horticulture and/or the leisure and amenity industry
  • knowledge of practical solutions to environmental and conservation issues
  • an interest in, and awareness of, the environmental and sustainability agenda and its implications
  • a full driving licence.

Work experience

Try to find a work experience placement, or some vacation work, within the industry. Do not underestimate the value of short-term contracts as these may provide a way of gaining a good range of relevant experience.

Your chances of finding employment will be considerably increased by gaining some post-qualification experience. Look for opportunities within development agencies, consultancies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and also overseas, working in specialist posts for foreign governments.

Employers

Typical employers include:

  • commercial companies supplying products, equipment and services to the industry
  • environmental and conservation bodies
  • farming and horticultural co-operatives
  • food companies processing packaging and distributing fresh and processed fruit and vegetables
  • horticultural consultancies
  • local authorities (county, metropolitan borough and district councils)
  • national park authorities.

Look for job vacancies at:

You will greatly enhance your chances of finding employment if you can be geographically mobile.

Most consultancies have only a small number of vacancies each year. Many do not recruit on a regular basis and vacancies are advertised as they arise, if at all. Speculative contact with consultancies can be useful, as many posts are filled by informal networking.

The membership directories of relevant institutes and associations may be useful for establishing contacts and finding freelance work:

Professional development

The training offered by agricultural and horticultural consultancies involves a mixture of short courses and project work, supervised by a senior and more experienced colleague. The structure and duration of any training programme will depend upon the size of the consultancy and the pressures of business.

Graduates aiming to become technical consultants should look for employers who will provide the training necessary to obtain Basis (Registration) Ltd qualifications or equivalent.

If you are an independent consultant, it will be your own responsibility to keep up to date both in your specialist area and in the horticultural sector overall. This is done mainly through personal contacts, short courses and attendance at conferences and will be at your own expense.

A range of training and networking opportunities are offered by the key professional bodies, such as the:

Career prospects

On first joining a consultancy, graduates tend to work in a general role and it is only later, with some experience, that they will specialise.

In commercial consultancies, progress is from junior consultant via senior consultant to team leader, with a possible invitation to become a partner or director.

In manufacturing-based consultancies and the public sector, promotion from team leader will be to manager, either within the consultancy itself or in other areas of activity within the business or local authority.

You may combine consultancy work with running your own commercial growing business or teaching or conducting research at university.