Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate 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 by evaluating factors such as market conditions, disease, soil conditions, and the availability of federal programs
  • Select and purchase supplies, such as seed, fertilizers, and farm machinery
  • Ensure that all farming equipment is properly maintained
  • 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, crops, and dairy products
  • Record financial, tax, production, and employee information

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers monitor the constantly changing prices for their products. They use different strategies to protect themselves from unpredictable changes in the markets. For example, some 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 for the loss. Farmers and ranchers also track disease and weather conditions closely, because disease and bad weather may have a negative impact on crop yields or animal health. When farmers and ranchers plan ahead, they may be able to store their crops or keep their livestock in order 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 a portion of 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 (CSA), cooperatives sell shares of a harvest to consumers before the planting season in order 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 may do all tasks, including harvesting and inspecting the land, growing crops, and raising animals. In addition, they keep records, service machinery, and maintain buildings.

By contrast, farmers and ranchers who operate larger farms generally 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, or information technology specialists.

Farmers and ranchers track technological improvements in animal breeding and seeds, choosing new products that might increase 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 operations 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 participate in 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, transport, and sell crops. They may also oversee the proper maintenance of equipment and property.

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

Crop farmers and managers are responsible for all steps of plant growth, which include planting, fertilizing, watering, and harvesting crops. These farmers can grow grain, fruits, vegetables, and other crops. 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, such as cows or chickens, in order to harvest meat, milk, or eggs. They keep livestock and poultry in barns, pens, and other farm buildings. These workers may also oversee the breeding of animals in order to maintain the appropriate herd or flock size.

Nursery and greenhouse managers oversee the production of trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants (including turf) used for landscaping. In addition to applying pesticides and fertilizers to help plants grow, they are often responsible for keeping track of inventory and marketing activities.

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 recreational fishing.

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Work Environment

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers held about 975,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers were as follows:

Self-employed workers 68%
Crop production 19
Animal production and aquaculture                               12

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically work outdoors, but may spend some time in offices. They often 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, tools, 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. Farm work can be seasonal, and the number of hours worked may change according to the season. 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. Some work more than 40 hours per week.

On livestock-producing farms and ranches, work goes on throughout the year. Animals must be fed and cared for every day.

On 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 staying in their offices to plan farm operations.

Education and Training

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers usually have at least a high school diploma and typically gain skills through work experience.

Education

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers usually have at least a high school diploma. As farm and land management has grown more complex and costly, farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers have increasingly needed postsecondary education, such as an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or a related field.

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.

There are a number of government programs that help new farmers get an education in farming. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has service centers across the country that assist new farmers in accessing programs offered by USDA. These programs include those that provide financial assistance for land and capital, help with finalizing a business plan, and assistance with conservation planning.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Prospective farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers typically work as agricultural workers for several years where they gain the knowledge and experience needed to operate their own farm or switch to management. Some of them may grow up on a family farm and learn that way. The amount of experience that is needed varies with the complexity of the work and the size of the farm. Those with postsecondary education in agriculture may not need previous work experience. Universities and various forms of government assistance give prospective farmers alternatives to working on a farm or growing up on one.

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 (ASFMRA) offer the Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) credential. The AFM requires 85 hours of coursework in land management and business ethics; a bachelor’s degree; 4 years of experience in farm or ranch management; and passing an exam. A complete list of requirements is available from ASFMRA.

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 $71,160 in May 2019. 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 $37,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $132,760.

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 earning income from their farm business, farmers can receive government subsidies or other payments that add to their income and reduce some of the risks of farming.

Also, more farmers, especially operators of small farms, are relying more on off-farm sources of income, such as community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Most farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers work full time. Farm work can be seasonal and the number of hours worked may change according to the season. 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. Some work more than 40 hours per week.

On livestock-producing farms and ranches, work goes on throughout the year. Animals must be fed and cared for every day.

Job Outlook

Employment of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. Over the past several decades, the efficiencies of large-scale crop production have led to the consolidation of acreage under fewer, but larger, farms. As farms become larger, they are able to invest more in productivity-enhancing technologies, reinforcing this effect.

Despite steady demand for agricultural products, many small farms operate with slim profit margins and are vulnerable to poor market conditions. As in the past, operators of smaller farms will likely continue to exit the business over the next decade.

Job Prospects

Prospective farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers may face competition. Some job opportunities will arise from retirements of older workers.

Some small-scale farmers may improve their job prospects by developing successful market niches that involve personalized, direct contact with their customers. Many are finding opportunities in organic food production. Others sell their output at farmers’ markets that cater directly to urban and suburban consumers, allowing the farmers to capture a greater share of consumers’ food dollars.

For More Information

For more information about agriculture policy and farm advocacy, visit

Center for Rural Affairs

For more information about federal resources for agriculture, visit the following websites at the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

New Farmers

Farm Service Agency

For more information on farm manager certification, visit

American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers

CareerOneStop

For career videos on farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers, visit

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Aquacultural Managers

Nursery and Greenhouse Managers

 

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