As a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s primary mission is to secure the country’s borders and facilitate international trade and travel. Achieving that objective includes preventing pests, diseases and other biological disturbances from entering the country in crops and food products. Agriculture specialists lead the fight to protect the country’s imported food supply.
Applicants to agriculture specialist positions need U.S. citizenship with residency in the country and a valid driver’s license. They also need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, natural resource management, chemistry or a biological science, such as botany or plant pathology. Because the job entails lifting heavy boxes or climbing stacks of containers, specialists must be physically fit and agile. They also require computer literacy for recording and accessing information in agency databases. Applicants must pass a background investigation, drug test and, in some cases, a medical exam.
Agriculture specialists inspect plants, animals, food and other agricultural commodities at ports of entry, such as airports and border stations. They must be familiar enough with customs rules and regulations to recognize when cargo contains items prohibited from entering the country, such as when tourists attempt to bring in fresh meat. They then have the power to confiscate the contraband and sanction the violator with fines or arrest. If material is acceptable for entry, they use their scientific knowledge to identify possible pathogens. They may also take remedial actions, such as disinfecting or decontaminating substances.
Because specialists may need to deal with large shipments quickly before they become inedible, the ability to lead and work in teams is essential. Specialists must be able to plan and organize multiple tasks at the same time. In addition, specialists may collaborate with scientists and law enforcement officials to identify potential terrorist threats. Some agriculture specialists are assigned to work with canine partners that can sniff out problematic items more quickly than visual inspection can discover.
An example of an agriculture specialist is Robin Wall, who also serves as the California agricultural liaison for the CBP. She has both bachelor’s and master’s degree in biological sciences from California State University- Sacramento. A U.S. Air Force veteran, she combines almost 20 years of federal and state experience in her role as an agriculture specialist. She began as a student assistant with California’s biological control program in 1994 and advanced through several positions with various state agencies. In 2002, she became a plant protection and quarantine officer for the port of Oakland to enforce agricultural regulations on foreign cargo. In 2003, she transferred to the CBP when the Department of Homeland Security was formed. She worked as an agriculture specialist in San Francisco, California, and Champlain, New York, before getting her current position.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: About
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: What are the Qualifications to Becoming an Agriculture Specialist?
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Protecting American Agriculture
- University of Georgia Jobs: Field Operations CBP Agriculture Specialist
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Creation
- California Health and Human Services: Robin Wall, California Agriculture Liaison
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