Statisticians have teamed up with experts in agriculture to study a number of challenging situations such as the following:
- If we were to stop using chemical pesticides today, how long would it take before groundwater was free of such pesticides?
- Statistical methods that were originally developed in connection with studies of whale populations can be used to help hydrogeologists predict the effects of changes in pesticide use.
- If we withhold food from a cow, its heart rate will slow down. Why does this happen, and what are the implications for veterinarians who use heart rate as a diagnostic tool? This problem involves the complex analysis of many blood components in healthy and sick cows.
- If one bean plant seems more resistant to disease than another, is that just good luck, or does genetics play a role? By analyzing data on bean plant DNA, it may be possible to breed strains of bean plants that are more resistant to disease.
- By using data collected from satellites, it is possible to measure the amount of sunlight reaching any part of the country. These data are useful to farmers in managing their crops, but they are also expensive to collect. With the help of statisticians, scientists are now using satellite information to design a low-cost network of sensors on the ground that will provide data of comparable quality.
Statisticians who work in agriculture interact daily with researchers from many sciences to help do the following:
- Develop research plans
- Design experiments
- Analyze experimental data
- Interpret research findings
Often, the statistician will be a member of several research teams. Some statisticians become team leaders, having primary responsibility for the scientific investigations conducted.
Statisticians are involved in studies ranging from small laboratory experiments to large projects conducted over many hundreds or thousands of square miles. They work on data from the smallest scale of organisms-viruses and bacteria-to plants, insects, animals, and humans.
They also work with scientists from many fields, including bacteriology, genetics, biochemistry, dairy science, environmental studies, entomology, plant sciences, rural sociology, veterinary medicine, wildlife, and ecology.
If you like math and working with people, agricultural statistics may appeal to you. It is not necessary to have a degree in biology, but it is important that you like science. If you do, then applying statistics to agriculture will give you a chance to learn from leading scientists about a fascinating array of topics. Moreover, it will give you a chance to have a direct impact on problems concerning our natural environment and the production of food.