Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers run establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.                 

Duties

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically do the following:

  • Supervise all steps of the crop production and ranging process, including planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and herding
  • Determine how to raise crops or livestock according to factors such as market conditions, federal program availability, and soil conditions
  • Select and purchase supplies, such as seed, fertilizers, and farm machinery
  • Repair farm machinery so it cultivates, harvests, and hauls crops
  • Adapt their duties to the seasons, weather conditions, or a crop’s growing cycle
  • Maintain farm facilities, such as water pipes, hoses, fences, and animal shelters
  • Serve as the sales agent for livestock and crops
  • Keep financial, tax, production, and employee records

American farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers produce enough crops and livestock to meet the needs of the United States and for export. However, farm output and income are strongly influenced by weather, disease, fluctuations in prices, and federal farm programs.

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers monitor the constantly changing prices for their product. They use different strategies to protect themselves from unpredictable changes in the markets.

Many farmers carefully plan the combination of crops that they grow, so if the price of one crop drops, they will have enough income from another crop to make up the loss. When farmers and ranchers plan ahead, they may be able to store their crops or keep their livestock to take advantage of higher prices later in the year.

Most farm output goes to food-processing companies. However, some farmers now choose to sell their goods directly to consumers through farmer's markets or use cooperatives to reduce their financial risk and to gain a larger share of the final price of their goods. In community-supported agriculture, cooperatives sell shares of a harvest to consumers before the planting season to ensure a market for the farm's produce.

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers also negotiate with banks and other credit lenders to get financing, because they must buy seed, livestock, and equipment before they have products to sell.

Farmers and ranchers own and operate mainly family-owned farms. They also may lease land from a landowner and operate it as a working farm.

The size of the farm or range determines which tasks farmers and ranchers handle. Those who operate small farms or ranges usually do all tasks. In addition to growing crops and raising animals, they keep records, service machinery, and maintain buildings.

Farmers and ranchers who operate large farms, however, have employees—including agricultural workers—who help with physical work. Some employees of large farms are in nonfarm occupations, working as truck drivers, sales representatives, bookkeepers, and IT specialists.

Both farmers and ranchers monitor the operation of machinery and maintain their equipment and facilities. They track technological improvements in animal breeding and seeds, choosing new products that might improve output. Many livestock and dairy farmers monitor and attend to the health of their herds, which may include assisting in births.

Agricultural managers take care of the day-to-day operation of one or more farms, ranches, nurseries, timber tracts, greenhouses, and other agricultural establishments for corporations, farmers, and owners who do not live and work on their farm or ranch.

Agricultural managers usually do not do production activities themselves. Instead, they hire and supervise farm and livestock workers to do most daily production tasks.

Managers may determine budgets. They may decide how to store and transport crops. They oversee proper maintenance of equipment and property.

The following are examples of types of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers:

Crop farmers and managers—those who grow grain, fruits and vegetables, and other crops—are responsible for all steps of plant growth. After a harvest, they make sure that the crops are properly packaged and stored.

Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers, ranchers, and managers feed and care for animals. They keep livestock in barns, pens, and other well-maintained farm buildings. These workers also oversee breeding and marketing.

Horticultural specialty farmers and managers oversee the production of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and plants (including turf) used for landscaping. They also grow grapes, berries, and nuts used in making wine.

Aquaculture farmers and managers raise fish and shellfish in ponds, floating net pens, raceways, and recirculating systems. They stock, feed, protect, and maintain aquatic life used for food and for recreational fishing.

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Work Environment

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers held about 930,600 jobs in 2012. About 73 percent were self-employed. The rest were wage and salary agricultural managers.

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically work outdoors and may spend some time in offices. They sometimes do strenuous physical work.

Some farmers work primarily with crops and vegetables. Other farmers and ranchers handle livestock.

Injuries and Illnesses

The work environment for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers can be hazardous. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injury, so workers must be alert on the job. They must operate equipment and handle chemicals properly to avoid accidents and safeguard the surrounding environment.

Work Schedules

Most farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers work full time. Farmers and farm managers on crop farms usually work from sunrise to sunset during the planting and harvesting seasons. During the rest of the year, they plan the next season's crops, market their output, and repair and maintain machinery.

On livestock-producing farms and ranches, work goes on throughout the year. Animals require care every day. 

On very large farms, farmers and farm managers spend time meeting with farm supervisors. Managers who oversee several farms may divide their time between traveling to meet farmers and landowners and planning the farm operations in their offices.

Education and Training

Traditionally, experience growing up on or working on a family farm or ranch is the way farmers and ranchers learn their trade.

Education

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically gain skills through work experience and usually have at least a high school diploma. Traditionally, experience growing up on or working on a family farm or ranch was the way farmers and ranchers learn their trade.

However, as farm and land management has grown more complex, more farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers now have a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or a related field. Completing a degree at a college of agriculture is becoming important for workers who want to make a living from this occupation. There are a number of government programs that help new farmers get training.

All state university systems have at least one land-grant college or university with a school of agriculture. Common programs of study include business with a concentration in agriculture, plant breeding, farm management, agronomy, dairy science, and agricultural economics.

At an agricultural college, students learn about crops, growing conditions, and plant diseases. Prospective ranchers and dairy farmers, on the other hand, learn basics of veterinary science, including how pesticides can affect livestock.

Training

Those without postsecondary education take a longer time to learn the more complex aspects of farming. A small number of farms offer formal apprenticeships to help young people learn the practical skills of farming and ranching. Government projects, such as the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, provide a way for people without any farm training to be paired with experienced farmers, learning through internships or apprentice programs.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Prospective farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers typically work and gain experience under more experienced farmers. Universities and forms of government assistance give prospective farmers alternatives to the traditional training method of being raised on a family farm.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

To show competency in farm management, agricultural managers may choose to become certified. The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMR) offers a farm manager accreditation to ASFMR members who have 4 years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree. A complete list of requirements, including consultant course work and exams, is available from ASFMR.

Personality and Interests

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading 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 Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. 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 Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a farmer, rancher, and other agricultural managers, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers must monitor and assess the quality of their land or livestock. These tasks require precision and accuracy.

Critical-thinking skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers make tough decisions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve their harvest and livestock, reacting appropriately to external factors.

Interpersonal skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers supervise laborers and other workers, so effective communication is critical.

Mechanical skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers—particularly those working on smaller farms—must be able to operate complex machinery and occasionally perform routine maintenance.

Pay

The median annual wage for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers was $69,300 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 $31,700, and the top 10 percent earned more than $124,160.

Incomes of farmers and ranchers vary from year to year because prices of farm products fluctuate with weather conditions and other factors. In addition to income from their farm business, farmers can receive government subsidies or other payments that add to their income and reduce some of the risk of farming.

Also, increasingly more farmers, especially operators of small farms, are relying on off-farm sources of income such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

Most farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers work full time. Farmers and farm managers on crop farms usually work from sunrise to sunset during the planting and harvesting seasons. During the rest of the year, they plan the next season's crops, market their output, and repair and maintain machinery.

On livestock-producing farms and ranches, work goes on throughout the year. Animals require care every day. 

Job Outlook

Employment of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is projected to decline 19 percent from 2012 to 2022.

The continuing ability of the agricultural sector to produce more with fewer workers will cause some farmers to go out of business.

As land, machinery, seed, and chemicals become more expensive, only well-capitalized farmers and corporations will be able to buy many of the farms that become available. These larger, more productive farms are better able to withstand the adverse effects of climate and price fluctuations on farm output and income.

Still, several new programs such as the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program are designed to help beginning farmers and ranchers acquire land and operating capital may offset these market pressures.

In contrast, agricultural managers should have more opportunities. Owners of large tracts of land, who often do not live on the property they own, increasingly will seek the expertise of agricultural managers, to run their farms and ranches as businesses.

Despite the expected continued consolidation of farmland and the projected decline in overall employment of this occupation, an increasing number of small-scale farmers have developed successful market niches that involve personalized, direct contact with their customers. Many are finding opportunities in horticulture and organic food production, which are among the fastest growing segments of agriculture. Others use farmer's markets that cater directly to urban and suburban consumers, allowing the farmers to capture a greater share of consumers' food dollars.

Some small-scale farmers belong to collectively owned marketing cooperatives that process and sell their products. Other farmers participate in community-supported agriculture (CSA) cooperatives that allow consumers to buy a share of the farmer's harvest directly.

For More Information

For more information about agriculture policy and farm advocacy, visit

Center for Rural Affairs

For more information about the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, visit

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

For more general information about farming in the United States, visit

Farm Service Agency

For more information on farm manager certification, visit

American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers

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