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Field trials officer

Plans and manages all stages of research trials.

When scientists carry out research trials, it is the field trials officer who plans and manages all stages of the procedure. The officer works closely with the researchers to match their requirements; they are involved in arranging the location, be it in a lab or out in the field, in monitoring the conditions, and in overseeing the fair collection of data.

Their work involves monitoring the effects of experiments on animals and plants; the results of research are used to inform development decisions in agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), carries out crop trials in the principal production areas of the country to assess varieties for characteristics of economic benefit to farmers. Crops trialed include cereals, maize, oilseed rape and potatoes.

The field trials officer offers specialist knowledge and local expertise enabling products to be tested and researched extensively in a wide range of environmental conditions. Some large independent agronomy service providers have the facility to conduct field trials on a contract basis for clients in the areas of agrochemical and nutrient field evaluation and the preparation of technical dossiers for product registration.

Work activities

Planning, preparing and organising trials, either on-site or in the laboratory.
Liaising with clients, research personnel and technical development staff.
Setting research aims and objectives and producing project plans and budgets.
Monitoring field conditions by accurately recording, analysing and interpreting data using specialist software such as Farmade and Genstat.
Assessing the prevalence of diseases and/or pests.
Considering selections for breeding purposes.
Writing technical publications and reports.
Keeping up to date with current developments.
making presentations, attending trade shows and demonstrations.

Work conditions

Travel: a regular feature of the working day.
Working hours: additional hours may be required at certain times of the year, for example during sowing and harvesting seasons.
Location: mainly in test areas throughout the country. More widespread opportunities exist in the private sector such as with independent agronomy service providers.
Opportunities for self-employment: possible to set up as an independent agronomy service provider.

Typical employers

  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) research institutes and their associated research centres.
  • Producers of chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.
  • Pharmaceutical producers.
  • Food production/processing companies.
  • Independent agronomy service providers.

Specific degree subjects required

A good honours degree in subjects such as biological sciences, biotechnology, botany, genetics, agriculture, horticulture or crop/plant science is normally the minimum academic requirement for entry into the profession.

Other relevant degree subjects

  • Agriculture
  • Biology/biological science
  • Biotechnology
  • Botany/plant science
  • Environmental science
  • Horticulture/crop science.

Specific entry requirements

A full driving licence and access to an independent means of transport, may also be required.

Tips for applications

Practical experience on a farm or similar environment especially using different types of machinery and dealing with a variety of crops can be beneficial, especially for those without an agricultural degree.

Skills and qualities

  • Ability to locate, set up and manage field trials in a wide variety of crops and conditions, including glasshouses.
  • Driving licence (HGV and tractor licence may be required).
  • Strong written and communication skills with excellent report writing, data handling and data interpretation skills.
  • IT literacy especially relevant statistical packages.
  • Excellent organisational and time management skills.
  • Enthusiasm and the ability to work independently combined with good level of physical fitness and mental stamina.
  • Patience and good technical and analytical skills.

Labour market information

Republic of Ireland: The National Skills Bulletin (2009)
Northern Ireland: Department of Education and Learning Labour Market Information