Agri Careers: Soil scientist (and agricultural maverick)

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If finding solutions to problems surrounding food supply and the environment is your thing, then you might want to consider a career as a soil scientist. Just like Morgan Brand did.

For the longest time, the 32-year-old thought that he would end up in a boring old laboratory doing research. But his love for the outdoors would simply not allow it.

So, Brand combined his love for nature and interest in science, and today he spends all of his time outside, running through the farm fields of Mzansi and studying its soil. Here he details what it takes to be dubbed a soil scientist.

1Sum up your job:
My life on a farm involves a lot of out of the box thinking which often generates innovative solutions, but mostly I repair things. The maintenance list always has something that we can do and there are always breakages at the most inappropriate times.

2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?
Maintenance and routine checks – these are two of your daily friends and they require the utmost respect. Every day is slightly different though and every day still manages to surprise us. However, if we manage to complete the routine chores while maintaining the equipment we use, we mitigate wasted time and energy spent unnecessarily.


What qualification do you need for this career?
Passion and commitment.

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4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?
Patience and respect. I have learned that my knowledge is not the same as the people I work with and just because I understand how it works that does not imply everyone else does. I will always try to identify where my knowledge and their knowledge overlaps while trying to bring relevant examples to improve the process.

It takes patience in teaching these things and I approach the exchange of skills with respect. I believe that as much as I am able to teach others, there are undoubtedly things I can learn. P.S. If I don’t understand how it works, I make a point of getting there.

5Have you always worked in the agriculture sector?
No. My background is in science and for a long time I thought I would end up in a laboratory doing research. Somewhere along the line I found the soil and started to appreciate its microbiome and I have been captivated by its incredible diversity and potential ever since.

6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?
I enjoy the time I spend with my African brothers and sisters, because there are not many opportunities available to break down cultural barriers in rural South Africa. When I have a task which requires physical exertion I focus on form and ensure that my posture is maintained so that I do not need to go to gyms. It’s also my way of ensuring that my body will work into my 80’s – like my father.

7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments?
My dad and I used a polar solvent to get ulvan (a structural polysaccharide) out of the green seaweed called Ulva in the kitchen using household supplies. This kitchen counter experiment initiated a journey of discovery and learning which will conclude as my PhD.

8What do you do when you’re not at work?
This is a challenge for me as I struggle to define the difference between work and non-work. I spend my free time thinking about how I can improve the systems I work within and optimise the ways things are done. Hobbies that pull me away from my work are fishing, hiking, planting things, compost and my microbes. I also used to do downhill longboarding but have developed an old age fear of speed!

9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story?
Don’t let boxes define your path and be prepared to learn on the move. In the modern world we have the ability to access almost any skill through the internet and develop our knowledge of any topic. If you are self-motivated, you can learn anything online. Go out there and learn, learn every day and never stop because we will define the future and it will be different from the past.

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