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Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration Major Guide for 2016-2017

What is Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration

There is a movement afoot to transform agriculture into a much more sustainable enterprise, including the proliferation of organic farms and urban agriculture. The Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration in the Environmental and Soil Sciences major is challenging, science-based and emphasizes an ecosystem approach to crop production and sustainability of our precious natural resources. In addition, it provides excellent preparation for careers in international agriculture, crop consulting, urban agriculture, and international corporations.  Students in this program study basic natural sciences such as chemistry and plant sciences, as well as applied areas such as integrated pest management, soil sciences, climate change, and natural resource policy.  Students also build expertise with modern technologies such as geographical information systems, global positioning systems, and computer applications in crop production and natural resource management.

Career Opportunities in Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability

As a Conservation Agronomist, you can choose from a wide range of job opportunities that take you into the field, laboratory, or office. Federal, State, and local governments employ 25 percent of all conservation agronomists. Many conservation agronomists work at consulting firms, helping businesses, farmers, and landowners manage their natural resources. Conservation agronomists also write risk assessments and technical proposals, describing the likely effects of crop production and other environmental changes. Examples of potential careers include:  owning and operating your own sustainable/organic farm; managing a community or corporate garden/urban agriculture; working in a university or industry setting as a conservation and natural resource specialist or scientist; private consulting in environmental and agricultural areas; working in a soil, plant and water analysis laboratory; and working with non-governmental organizations in efforts to protect and teach about crop production and how to protect natural resources. Graduates also have the theoretical training necessary for attaining advanced degrees in a variety of agronomic- or natural resource-related fields or law school. Our students take core physical and biological sciences, math, plant and soil classes that can lead to certification as a soil scientist, a professional requirement in many agencies and companies.

Salary Trends in Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability

According to the 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook by the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual wages of conservation agronomists were $58,390 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,150 and $78,080. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,340.  The average Federal salary in 2009 was $79,158 in agronomy. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, beginning salary offers in July 2009 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy was 34,699 a year.

High School Preparation

Successful Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability students typically have a good high school background in math, physics, biology, earth science, and chemistry. This background will enable you to more easily begin your college work. Also, if you are able to earn advanced placement credit in some of these areas, you may have additional options later in your degree program. These could include taking specialized courses that interest you, working in a lab, or contributing to a research project and thus providing valuable experience and improving your employment opportunities.

Freshman admission to the program follows the general requirements of the University. Admission chances are enhanced by high ACT/SAT scores and a solid high school transcript.

Transfer Student Preparation

The transfer students that do best in Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability come in with a strong background in the physical and biological science, and math, having done well in the equivalent of Chemistry I, Geology, Biology I, and pre-calculus.  Having most of the general education core completed is recommended. In addition, transfer students from community colleges do best at UT when they have completed 60 credit hours at the community college. Several community colleges offer introductory crop and soil science classes which will transfer to this concentration.

How to Major in Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration

The Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability concentration is housed in the Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science Department under the Environmental and Soil Science major. Our faculty and students enjoy talking with prospective students. A faculty member (or a student, if you prefer) will be happy to guide you through our labs and answer your questions about the department, major, and career opportunities. It is important to choose your desired concentration early (preferably at or before enrollment) to avoid having to make up specific required courses. There are provisions for elective courses to be taken in specific subject areas at various stages of your degree program. Students consult with their faculty advisers each semester about their interests and the appropriate classes to meet the students’ needs.

Requirements for Environmental and Soil Science – Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration

During the freshman year, the Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration emphasizes foundational physical and biological sciences, writing skills and necessary math. The sophomore year includes science, as well as computer applications, economics, business, statistics, and some introductory core courses.

In the junior and senior years, the Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration directs students into a variety of core courses that emphasize crop, soil, and ecological sciences. The Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability Concentration shares many courses with the Environmental Science and Soil Science Concentrations, but focuses more intensely on the ecological aspects of crop production, as well as organic farming and natural resource conservation.

Directed technical electives allow students to focus on an area of interest. This focus introduces students to natural resource problems and their management, including:
• Soil and water conservation issues
• Integrated and sustainable pest management
• Animal production

Other areas of interest can be pursued through the appropriate selection of technical electives.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

An internship is a structured 10-12 week work session, usually in the summer, in which you apply what you have learned in the classroom to real-life problems, while being mentored by a trained professional. Students are employed in paid full-time positions by industry, business, and government organizations, providing valuable experience and a competitive salary. The Environmental and Soil Sciences program encourages all students to intern while in college. Can you see yourself helping with a working organic farm, assisting with research at the UT Organic Research Unit, or doing field measurements for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service?

Here are some additional reasons to consider Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability at UT:

  • An excellent student:professor ratio. This means more one-to-one time with professors for academic counseling and assistance with coursework. Graduates consistently rank our outstanding, caring faculty as one of our strengths.
  • Training in delivering presentations — through seminars, poster sessions, papers, and attendance at professional meetings.
  • Excellent scholarship support. Our students are eligible for scholarship money from both the University and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
  • The chance to participate in Soil Vols, our soil judging team.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

In addition to providing its graduates with a skill set and academic preparation that are needed around the world, Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability takes an international perspective in both its research and educational missions.  Departmental researchers have recently worked in or cooperated with researchers from countries ranging from Australia to Zambia, with countries in-between including Taiwan, Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador, and many others.  Finally, our student body includes many international students who add to the diversity of our campus. Students have spent semesters abroad in countries from Sweden to Malta to South Africa, and have traveled with College trips to the Dominican Republic, Belize, Thailand, Mexico, and Jamaica.  CASNR and college departments frequently provide scholarships for CASNR students participating in study abroad programs.  Study abroad students often go on to minor in International Agriculture and Natural Resources. Conservation Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability is not only ready for the world; it sees its mission as meeting needs of a global population to feed itself.

Experience Learning

Experience Learning LogoExperience Learning is a bold new initiative with the goal of transforming the educational student experience at the University of Tennessee. Over a five-year period, UT will transform our culture to give students more opportunities to be involved in civic engagement, solve complex real-world problems, and contribute to the welfare of their communities as part of their regular course work.

The purpose of Experience Learning is to help students apply the knowledge, skills, and values learned in the classroom to real-world challenges. Experience Learning also seeks to engage student learning through direct experience and intense reflection to increase knowledge, acquire lifelong learning and problem-solving skills, and elucidate values.

Learn more about Experience Learning (opens in new tab).

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. All entering students will be required to adhere to UTrack starting in Summer 2015. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, go to (Opens in New Tab)

For More Information

Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science
University of Tennessee
2506 E.J. Chapman Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-4531
Phone: (865) 974-7266, 974-7237
Web (opens in new tab)


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog (opens in new tab) or contact the department and/or college directly.

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