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Agriculture and food


Agriculture and food (agri-food) is a sub-sector of the life sciences sector, which in the UK is one of the strongest and most productive in the world, turning over in excess of £56 billion per year.

Life sciences encompasses areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, food processing, environmental and medical technology.

More generally, we define 'life sciences' as all sciences that have to do with organisms such as plants, animals and human beings.

Other life science sub-sectors you may wish to explore further are:

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Explore the sector

Agri-food is worth £109 billion to the UK economy and accounts for 14% of national employment.

The core elements of this sub-sector are agriculture (or primary production) and the subsequent processing, wholesale and retail activities associated with the food and drink that is produced.

There are numerous different roles available, ranging from animal nutritionist to biochemical engineer, food quality control analyst or supply chain manager.

This is a rapidly changing industry, and exports in Northern Ireland, a key player in the agri-food sector, have chosen the following areas as important for the sector to focus on in the future.

  • Innovative process and packaging
  • Enhancing consumer knowledge
  • Emphasis on organic produce
  • Increasing populations

A recent report, Leading Food 4.0, publishing by the National Centre for Universities and Business, explains that in Food 4.0, "nine billion people around the world must be fed safely, sustainably, affordably and securely".

It anticipates that the "Food 4.0 revolution is likely to be knowledge-intensive, collaborative and integrative. It may be built on nanotechnologies, big data, genomics and communications technologies. Or, it may be the product of renewables, ecological policies, better consumer education and environmental literacy. In all likelihood, it will be birthed by all of these".

The good news is that all of this vital development will require scientists and researchers at every stage.


Employers and roles


Typical employers in this sub-sector include:

Food manufacturing and processing companies

Food Manufacture produce a comprehensive directory of the UK's leading food manufacturers and processers.

Supermarkets and other food retailers

Food retailers fall into a number of subcategories:

  • Supermarkets, e.g. ASDA, Sainsbury's
  • Discounters, e.g. Aldi, Lidl
  • Other retailers including newsagents, off-licenses, butchers, bakeries and specialist retailers

Farms and agricultural contractors

The National Farmers Union website produces and job vacancy database, and a directory of relevant organisations.

Government departments

Various Government departments and bodies focus on different areas of the agri-food industry:

Research institutions and organisations

Agri-food is a fast-paced industry facing a range of environmental and consumer-related issues that require innovative research solutions.

  • Viewing the relevant agri-food vacancies on will give you an idea of the various research organisations and departments
  • ADAS is the UK's largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, rural development services and policy advice


Visit Tasty Careers for a details list of job descriptions, both graduate and non-graduate, across the industry.

There are also several relevant job profiles in the Environmental and Agriculture sector on the Prospects website including:

Sainsbury's have produced a useful video, that explains the different stages involved in new product development – in this case a cheesecake.

Sainsbury's 'From cow to customer' video


Finding a job


Recent reports suggest that the agri-food industry struggles to recruit and retain good science graduates. This is largely due to a lack of awareness of the numerous opportunities available.

However, as the industry shifts to meet the changing needs of global populations, demand for scientists will only increase.

If you think that this industry might be of interest to you, careful research and the development of some relevant experience, e.g. working in a supermarket to gain better understanding of consumers, or on a farm so you can familiarise yourself with animals and see the day-to-day issues first-hand, will give you a clear advantage in the application process.


While there are specialist degrees available, many of the roles across the agri-food industry will be relevant to those with a biology, chemistry, engineering or healthcare-related degree.

You may find that a masters qualification is an advantageous way to build your specialist knowledge, particularly if the role you wish to apply for is a technical one. 

For research roles, a PhD may be required.


Specific skills will vary between different jobs, but a career in this industry is likely to require the following:

  • The ability to formulate and communicate ideas
  • Negotiating, marketing skills to support new product/business development
  • Role-specific technical and analytical skills
  • The ability to conduct work safely and ethically, and to explain it clearly
  • Strong communications skills – able to work collaboratively with colleagues and to build effective relationships with customers/clients
  • Enthusiasm and commitment

Recruitment processes

Large recruiters such as supermarkets or Government departments will have clearly defined and well-advertised graduate recruitment processes, often starting their recruitment in the autumn term, prior to graduation for roles starting the following summer.

Smaller organisations such as specialist retailers, research consultancies, agricultural businesses, etc, are more likely to recruit as demand arises.

Vacancy sources

Specialist recruitment agencies and job boards include:

Farmers Weekly 
Jobs section searchable by type of job

Agricultural & Farming Jobs 
One of the sector's specialist jobs boards

Foodman Jobs 
For roles in food manufacturing processes including graduates 
Advertises research roles within the agri-food industry

More People - recruitment agency covering the fresh food, horticulture, agriculture and garden industry sectors

Your Food Job - a European job board for the food and beverage industry

Food Careers - agency covering global and the UK food manufacturing sector


Finding work experience

To identify the most relevant experience for the particular role that interests you, view job descriptions and vacancy details, and talk to recruiters or individuals working in within your chosen part of the industry. networking can be a valuable way of getting a foot in the door.

Start by asking for advice and then build up to exploring opportunities for practical experience. 

  • If you are interested in the agricultural production side of the industry, gaining experience on a farm will be beneficial

  • For those who are considering new product development, experience in market research or a food retail environment will raise your awareness of consumers and their needs

  • If you want to work in a research environment, finding a vacation placement or internship in a relevant department will enhance your future applications


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