Agricultural workers held about 749,400 jobs in 2012.
They usually work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Animal breeders may travel from farm to farm to consult with farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers about their livestock.
Agricultural workers’ work can be difficult. To harvest fruits and vegetables by hand, workers frequently bend and crouch. They also lift and carry crops and tools.
Injuries and Illnesses
Agricultural workers risk exposure to pesticides sprayed on crops or plants. Exposure can be minimal, however, if workers follow the appropriate safety procedures. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injury, so workers must be constantly alert. Agricultural workers who work directly with animals risk being bitten or kicked.
Some agricultural workers, called migrant farmworkers, move from location to location as crops ripen. Their unsettled lifestyles and periods of unemployment between jobs can cause stress. Most agricultural workers are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico.
Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal workers typically work longer hours during planting or harvesting times or when animals must be sheltered and fed. In 2012, nearly 1 in 3 worked part time.
Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training. Many do not need a high school diploma before they begin working, but animal breeders typically need a high school diploma and prior work experience.
Education and Training
Most agricultural workers do not need a high school diploma. They usually receive short-term on-the-job training.
Most animal breeders have a high school diploma, and typically have several years of experience in a related occupation.
Most agricultural workers receive some short-term on-the-job training. Employers instruct them on how to use simple farming tools, as well as more complex machinery. More experienced workers are also expected to perform routine maintenance on the tools they use.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Animal breeders typically have prior work experience before they begin interacting with livestock. Ranch workers may transition into animal breeding after they become more familiar with animals and learn how to handle them.
Agricultural workers may advance to crew leader or other supervisory positions. The ability to speak both English and Spanish is helpful for agricultural supervisors.
Some agricultural workers aspire to become farmers, ranchers, or agricultural managers or to own their own farms and ranches. Knowledge of produce and livestock may provide an excellent background for becoming a purchasing agent or buyer of farm products. Those who earn a college degree in agricultural science could become agricultural or food scientists.
Agricultural workers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an agricultural worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Agricultural workers should also possess the following specific qualities:
Dexterity. Agricultural workers need excellent hand-eye coordination to harvest crops and operate farm machinery.
Listening skills. Agricultural workers need to work well with others. Because they take instructions from farmers and other agricultural managers, effective listening is critical.
Physical stamina. Agricultural workers need to be able to perform laborious tasks repeatedly.
Physical strength. Agricultural workers must be strong enough to lift heavy objects, including tools and crops.
Mechanical skills. Agricultural workers must be able to operate complex farm machinery. They also occasionally do routine maintenance on the machinery.
The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $18,910 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $29,820.
Median annual wages for agricultural workers in 2012 were the following:
- $34,250 for animal breeders
- $25,860 for agricultural equipment operators
- $25,140 for agricultural workers, all other
- $22,060 for farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals
- $18,670 for farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse
Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal workers typically work longer hours.
Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, agricultural workers should have good job prospects overall.
Despite increasing international demand for food and meat, fewer agricultural workers may be needed as agricultural and livestock establishments continue to consolidate.
Technological advancements in farm equipment raises output per farm worker, which could also affect employment for agricultural workers. On the other hand, nursery and greenhouse workers might experience some job growth, if the demand for landscaping plants continues.
Job prospects for agricultural workers should be strong as workers frequently leave the occupation due to the intense, physical nature of the work. This is especially true for agricultural equipment operators and crop, greenhouse, and nursery farmworkers. Those who work with animals tend to have a more settled lifestyle because the work does not require them to follow crops for harvest. Prospects will be best for those who can speak English and Spanish.
For more information about agricultural workers, visit
The National Agricultural Workers Survey, U.S. Department of Labor
For more information about agriculture policy and farm advocacy, visit
For more information about the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, visit
National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture
For more general information about farming in the United States, visit
Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture