Soil Scientist

Soil science deals with the origins, characteristics and the use of soils for purposes of sustained biological production, the retention of environmental quality, as well as promoting health in plants, animals and people.

Information about the composition of soil is required for a variety of reasons. It may be needed to assist with planning and surveying for land development purposes; to assess the effect of agrochemicals used in farming; to aid land restoration and reclamation projects; to gauge drainage and irrigation requirements; or to investigate environmental, climatic and pollution issues.

For this reason, soil scientists are trained to identify and evaluate soil types for agricultural and non-agricultural uses, to determine the deficiencies of various kinds of soil and how these may be rectified. The process includes aspects such as soil-cultivation methods and practices, soil fertility and fertilising, irrigation and drainage.

Soil scientists can specialise in various fields :

  • soil formation - the processes whereby soil is formed
  • soil classification - the classification of soil according to its properties
  • soil mineralogy - the composition of the soil
  • soil science - the biological, chemical and physical properties of the soil
  • soil fertility - how many plant nutrients the soil contains and it can take up
  • soil decay - through, for example, erosion or by becoming brackish
Thus, their work may involve: classifying soils according to standard types; conducting experiments on farms to determine the best soil type for different plants; analysing soil to establish chemical and mineralogical relationships to plant growth; and/or investigating the effects of tillage, fertilisation, crop rotation, environmental factors and pollution on different soil types.

Soil scientists are researchers, developers and advisors. They use their knowledge to ensure that good soil planning and management are applied. They make recommendations regarding soil fertilisation and the correct use of water. Soil scientists are responsible for optimal soil utilisation. They must prevent soil decay and ensure that the natural soil fertility is maintained and improved. Farmland with good potential must be reserved for agricultural use.

Soil scientists work in the field as well as in the laboratory and use natural resource data banks, simulation models and computers. They work closely with other agricultural experts and with farmers, ensuring that available knowledge and research are utilised to improve soil-management practices.

Personal Requirements

  • want to help mankind through the practical application of scientific knowledge
  • good communication and persuasive skills
  • love of nature and the outdoors
  • able to work independently and as part of a team
  • concentration skills and attentiveness
  • self-motivated and dedicated
  • prepared to work in all kinds of weather conditions and isolated areas

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Geography

What to Study

Degree: The minimum requirement for a soil scientist is a 4-year BSc (Agric) or a 3-year BSc with Soil Science as major subject. Both degrees are offered at most South African universities.

Post-graduate study: BSc Honours degree in Soil Science is recommended


  • Agricultural Research Council
  • research institutes and organisations
  • Department of Agriculture
  • universities
  • agricultural cooperations
  • fertiliser manufacturers
  • CSIR
  • self-employment, can start own business and practice as an analyst, soil surveyor and development consultant to the agricultural and nstruction industries, development cooperatives, commercial banks and landscape architects

Further Information

The Agricultural Research Council
P O Box 8783
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 427-9700

The Institute for Soil, Climate and Water
Private Bag X79
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 310-2648

The Soil Science Society of South Africa
P O Box 65217
Erasmusrand, 0165
Tel: (051) 401-9247

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in an agriculturally based company, such as a fertiliser company
  • read up as much as you can about soil
  • speak to soil scientists about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions


Related Occupations

Study to become a Soil Scientist at Stellenbosch University

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