Farmer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for farmers. Get the facts about salary, educational requirements, job duties and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Landscape Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Farmer?

Farmers run operations that produce livestock, dairy products and/or crops. Job particulars vary with the type of product, size and location of the farm and whether the farmer focuses on the agricultural or business side of the operation. On a small farm, farmers typically do a wide variety of tasks themselves, such as growing and harvesting crops, caring for livestock, and maintaining equipment. Large farms often hire farmers to fulfill one particular job. Operating a piece of harvesting machinery, tracking livestock breeding, or picking fruit are just a few of the many jobs that a farm may need.

Most farmers work full-time, though the work may be seasonal. Any prospective farmer should be ready for long days and sometimes-strenuous physical labor. However, the job could have an office-based component as well, particularly during the planting and harvesting off-season. Office duties could include keeping track of sales or financial paperwork, tracking staff activity, or planning for the next growing season. A big part of a farmer's job is to try to protect his or her business from the unpredictable nature of food markets and environmental factors. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this profession.

Degree Required None required; bachelor's or master's degree is helpful
Education Field of Study Agricultural science, dairy science, agricultural economics, farm management
Training Available Internships & apprenticeships available
Key Responsibilities Crop or livestock production, care & management; facilities & land management; financial operations
Certification Optional certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% decline for all farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers*
Average Salary (2015) $69,880 for all farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Might I Earn as a Farmer?

Your salary as a farmer can be highly variable. It will significantly depend upon factors such as the weather, consumer demand and government subsidies. While a farm may have a successful, high-yield crop one year, there may be flooding or drought the next, causing a swing from profits to losses. As a farmer, you may need to have a second source of income that is more consistent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, farm managers had an average yearly salary of $69,880 in May 2015; this included farmers who operate farms for owners, performing many of the labor-intensive, hands-on tasks of running a farm, rather than the self-employed farmer (www.bls.gov). Among the highest-paying employers of farmers at that time were beverage manufacturers (average of $108,090), farming enterprises ($77,640) and those employed by local government ($76,090).

What Type of Education Will I Need?

You can become a farmer with little to no formal education. In many cases, farms are passed down from one generation to the next and children learn to farm from their parents.

However, many colleges and universities offer degree programs that can help you succeed, whether you intend to make a living as a self-employed small farm operator or as a part of a large-scale farming corporation. Degrees can be found at the associate, bachelor's or master's degree levels in a variety of areas of study. Most are centered on either the business aspects of farming or agricultural issues. While associate degree programs provide you with introductory training, bachelor's and master's degree programs enable you to develop advanced skills that are helpful for this competitive field.

Business-focused programs can help you learn to operate your own farm or ascend in the ranks of a larger operation. These can be agricultural business programs or general business programs, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program with an agricultural concentration. In these programs, you'll learn about economic theory, accounting, personnel management and marketing.

Programs focused on applied agricultural sciences can train you in topics such as animal science, horticulture or dairy production. These tend to be more hands-on programs, in which you gain practical experience in a relevant area of farming.

What Type of Work Can I Do?

As a farmer, you can work in a multitude of roles. You might focus on crops, growing grains for human or livestock consumption, as well as fibers, vegetables and fruits. Crop farms require you to perform tasks such as preparing the land, planting seeds and harvesting. In addition or separately, you may focus on animals, such as pigs, poultry or dairy cows; with this focus, your duties will include feeding, disease prevention, tracking and breeding.

Since farms are businesses, you may also focus on more administrative and operational duties. These include record keeping, price negotiating and planning, which is often a major focus in this potentially volatile industry. On a small farm, you may perform all crop or animal-related tasks, as well as all business tasks. On a larger farm, you may specialize in certain roles or act as a manager of other farmers or farm workers.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are prepared to earn at least a bachelor's degree, you could consider working as an agricultural and food scientist. This is typically a laboratory-based career, where you will do research to make food and farming more efficient or safer. Alternatively, becoming an agricultural worker is a good choice if you aren't interested in a managerial position, but want a lifestyle similar to farmers. Agricultural workers do manual labor like harvesting, caring for livestock, and operating machinery on a farm.

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