Similar Titles

Conservation Scientists, Conservationist, Environmental Analyst, Environmental Quality Scientists, Erosion Control Specialists, Land Reclamation Specialists, Land Resource Specialists, Research Soil Scientists, Resource Conservation Specialist, Resource Conservationist, Soil Conservationists

Job Description

The world has a lot of mouths to feed, with over 8 billion people plus so many animals it’s impossible to count them all. Combined, we’re putting a strain on one of the planet’s most valuable resources—soil! 

71% of the Earth’s surface is water, leaving just 29% for land. Of that land, only ~10-11% is arable soil that’s suitable for growing crops. Meanwhile, other types of soil play vital roles in maintaining natural ecosystems, or in supporting urban structures. 

Soil is fundamental to the continued existence of life as we know it. It’s so important, we now rely on dedicated Soil Conservationists to safeguard this precious resource. They assess the health and quality of soils, design measures to prevent erosion, and promote practices that enhance soil vitality. 

Their work helps ensure the fertility of the ground for agricultural productivity. It also preserves the natural balance of ecosystems, prevents water pollution, and supports biodiversity! 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Getting to spend time peacefully working outdoors
  • Supporting an invaluable resource needed to feed the population 
  • Helping the environment and supporting wildlife habitats
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Soil Conservationists work full-time jobs. Travel for fieldwork and site visits to farms, forests, or other sites may be needed. There could be exposure to inclement weather or hazards such as pests or chemicals.

Typical Duties

  • Examine sites to assess topographical properties, such as soil types and qualities
  • Meet and work with farmers and landowners to draft conservation plans 
  • Collaborate with applicable local, state, and federal agencies
  • Create suitable soil conservation practices for sites
  • Practices may include contour plowing, strip cropping, covering crops, terracing, crop rotation, planting trees and shrubs, creating tree windbreaks, no-till farming, installing ponds and grass waterways, subsoiling, mulching, erosion control blankets, managed grazing, etc. 
  • Create a database of soil types, erosion data, and actions taken
  • Suggest amendments to improve soil health
  • Monitor the effectiveness of implemented practices; gauge the impacts on soil health
  • Work with engineers and hydrologists to ensure that soil conservation efforts align with water conservation needs
  • Monitor construction practices and offer guidance on erosion control
  • Advise on water quality and conservation issues such as wetlands restoration

Additional Responsibilities

  • Look for organizations to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships
  • Write or assist with grant proposals to seek project funding
  • Provide education and training to agencies and institutions, as needed
  • Keep up to date on trends and best practices
  • Participate in professional organization events, such as workshops and conferences
  • Draft technical reports outlining findings and recommendations
  • Train and mentor new conservationists 
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Accuracy 
  • Analytical
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills 
  • Continuous learning
  • Customer service 
  • Detail-oriented
  • Independent 
  • Initiative
  • Methodical 
  • Monitoring
  • Organized
  • Patience
  • Reliable 
  • Scheduling
  • Sound judgment and decision-making
  • Time management 

Technical Skills

  • Knowledge of soil science, including soil profiles and physics
  • Basic chemistry and biology
  • Hydrology, including water movement, water quality, and the ways to conserve and improve water resources
  • Agronomy/crop science, including types of crops, growth cycles, and effects on soils
  • Erosion control techniques, like terracing, strip cropping, contour plowing, cover crops, etc. 
  • Knowledge of agricultural equipment and machines
  • Research and measurement-taking skills; basic land survey tools
  • Databases and analytics programs for soil health information
  • Land-use planning
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Remote sensing using satellite imagery or aerial photography
  • Software for soil modeling and data analysis
  • Conservation planning; wetlands preservation; environmental impact assessment methods
  • Knowledge of governmental agencies, policies, and regulations
  • Valid driver’s license (for some jobs)
Different Types of Organizations
  • Private industries
  • Conservation organizations
  • Governmental agencies
  • Colleges, universities, and other research facilities
Expectations and Sacrifices

Much rides on the important work of Soil Conservationists, who bear a lot of responsibility to ensure our valuable soil resources are protected and used efficiently!

They have to be able to conduct thorough soil surveys and studies, develop feasible conservation plans, reduce erosion, and help with proper water drainage and irrigation. Oversights and errors can lead to mistakes that cost farmers and businesses money and may be harmful to the environment and wildlife habitats. 

Current Trends

Soil conservation is in the spotlight because of increasing awareness of the pivotal role soil plays in our climate, food security, and ecosystem health. 

Regenerative agriculture is a trend that goes beyond sustainable farming by actively improving the health and vitality of soils. This includes practices like no-till or reduced tillage, which minimizes soil disturbance; cover cropping; and crop rotation and diversification. These techniques enhance soil health and boost its ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere.

Another trend is the nurturing of soil microbiomes, in which microorganisms promote soil health and plant growth, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, digital agriculture technologies such as drones, sensors, and machine learning algorithms are being used to monitor soil health, predict erosion patterns, and optimize irrigation. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

Soil Conservationists may have always loved to work outside in natural settings. They could have grown up in rural settings, such as around farms, fields, or forests. They care about wildlife and the environment, and are patient and meticulous—traits that could have come from any number of childhood experiences! 

Education and Training Needed
  • Soil Conservationists usually have at least a bachelor’s degree. There is no single required major. Some major in plant/crop or soil science, others in horticulture, chemistry, or even biology
  • Common classes may include:
  1. Agronomy and crop science
  2. Climatology and soil-climate interactions
  3. Conservation planning and management
  4. Ecology and environmental science
  5. Environmental law and policy
  6. Erosion and sediment control
  7. Geographic information systems and remote sensing
  8. Hydrology and watershed management
  9. Land reclamation and remediation
  10. Land use planning
  11. Soil chemistry
  12. Statistical methods
  13. Soil conservation workshop
  • Learners who want to beef up their education in a specific area can consider ad hoc online courses from Udemy, HortCourses, Skillshare, and other sites
  • Optional certifications such as Certified Professional Soil Scientist and Associate Professional Soil Scientist from the Soil Science Society of America can boost your credentials
Things to look for in an University
  • Look for a program that offers enough specialized courses related to soil and soil conservation
  • Consider the cost of tuition, discounts, and local scholarship opportunities (in addition to federal aid) 
  • Think about your schedule and flexibility, when deciding whether to enroll in an on-campus, online, or hybrid program
  • Check out the academic and work backgrounds of faculty members. Review their current research and writings, and see awards they may have received or accomplishments they are known for
  • Take a look at graduation rates, job placement statistics, and what alumni are up to
Things to do in High School and College
  • In high school, stock up on botany, biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, and agriculture classes. Try to learn what you can about agronomy, crop science, climatology, environmental science, hydrology, land reclamation, soil chemistry, and microbiology
  • Sign up if your school features a gardening or agricultural program, or start your own garden at home or at a community plot 
  • Look for internships, cooperative experiences, part-time jobs, or volunteer projects while in college. You could work at a plant nursery, on a farm, or for a local college
  1. The Farm Production and Conservation Business Center “offers different pathway opportunities for students and recent graduates to work in the agricultural, science, technology, math, environmental, management, business, and many other fields” 
  • Take part in student chapters of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS)
  • Request an informational interview with a working Soil Conservationist in your community
  • Check out the career profiles of successful members of the SWCS community
  • Apply for related part-time jobs, volunteer activities, cooperative educational opportunities, or internships
  • Study soil conservation-related articles and videos. Get in the habit of reading technical materials such as scientific papers, and not just blogs
  • Consider taking ad hoc online courses from Udemy, HortCourses, Skillshare, and other sites
  • Draft up a working resume to keep track of your work and academic accomplishments
  • Join professional organizations to learn, share, make friends, and grow your network (see our list of Resources > Websites)
  • Keep track of the names and contact info of people who can serve as job references later
Typical Roadmap
Soil Conservationist
How to Land your 1st job
  1. Note, the Inflation Reduction Act helped create more conservation job opportunities so keep an eye on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s career page
  • Take note of important keywords in job postings. Work them into your resume and cover letters
  • Apply for soil conservation technician jobs where you can get experience helping conservationists with data collection, surveying and design activities, staking, field investigations, inspections, public outreach, and other tasks
  • Check out Soil Conservationist resume examples and search online for sample interview questions
  • Tell everyone in your professional network that you’re looking for work
  • Consider relocating to where there are more job openings
  • The states with the highest employment numbers for Conservation Scientists are Texas, California, Colorado, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania
  1. The states with the highest concentration of jobs are Montana, Alaska, South Dakota, Mississippi, and North Dakota
  2. The states that pay the most for these jobs are Washington D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, and Nevada
  • Ask your college professors, former supervisors, and/or coworkers if they’re willing to serve as personal references. Don’t give out their personal contact information without prior permission
  • Do mock interviews with your school’s career center or with your friends, so you’ll feel prepared and more relaxed during real interviews
  • Dress appropriately for interviews and show your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the field 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Let your supervisor know you want to take on additional responsibilities and are willing to undergo additional training, as needed. Be sure you understand the promotion criteria
  • Document your successes and contributions!
  • Be proactive. Volunteer for challenging projects or tasks that might be outside your regular duties. Identify areas where improvements can be made in current conservation practices and suggest solutions
  • Knock out a specialty certification such as Certified Professional Soil Scientist or Associate Professional Soil Scientist from the Soil Science Society of America
  • Consider completing a master’s or PhD, if warranted
  • Develop and refine your technical skills related to soil analysis, erosion control, conservation planning, etc.
  • Keep up with environmental trends and challenges that impact soil. Learn about emerging technologies through continuing education courses, workshops, or conferences
  • Stay very familiar with local, state, and federal regulations and policies regarding soil conservation
  • Demonstrate independence, integrity, and leadership. Talk to colleagues to exchange information and tips. Teach and mentor others
  • Collaborate effectively with team members and develop strong relationships with local environmental agencies
  • Publish papers in high-impact journals like the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation to demonstrate your research skills and to get your work seen by a wider audience
  • Ask if there are particular specialized hydroponics skills or systems you could learn that could benefit the business. Let them know you are willing to do the training and ask if they can offer tuition assistance 
  • Always practice good safety procedures and wear gloves or eye protection, as needed
  • Engage with professional hydroponics organizations like the Soil Science Society of America. Attend meetings and events to learn and make connections
  • When the time is right, consider applying to larger employers that may offer higher salaries or better promotion opportunities 
Recommended Tools/Resources
Plan B

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% rise in jobs for conservationists in general over the next decade. However, that figure may grow thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act which is helping to create more conservation programs—and thus more job opportunities, for Soil Conservationists and other fields. 

If you want to explore a few related types of jobs, check out some of the below options: 

  • Agricultural and Food Science Technician    
  • Agronomist
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Grounds Maintenance Worker    
  • Horticulturist
  • Landscaper
  • Naturalist
  • Pesticide Handler
  • Plant Biologist
  • Vineyard Manager


Online Courses and Tools