Becoming a Farmer: Career Path & Education Requirements

If you've ever thought about working with the land, farming may be an option. Here are the education requirements, salaries and key skills for this career. Schools offering Landscape Design degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Farmers plant and harvest crops, raise livestock and produce dairy products that feed the world. Farmers need great physical strength and stamina, mechanical skills for operating heavy machinery and plenty of self-motivation. For more details, check out an overview of the field in the chart below.

Education Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Skills Physical stamina, mechanical aptitude, analytical skills
Optional Certification Accredited Farm Manager credential
Job Growth (2018-2028) -1%*
Median Salary (2018) $67,950 per year*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Farmers Do?

Farmers tend to livestock and produce crops like fruits, grains and vegetables. It sounds simple, but it involves no small amount of planning and hard work to accomplish. For instance, growing a single crop involves preparing the soil, carefully selecting seeds, using the right fertilizers, fighting pests and diseases, harvesting at the perfect moment and getting the product to a seller. Managing crops means learning to work with what the weather gives you, solving myriad logistical puzzles and adapting when things go wrong.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Farmer?

Some farmers hold a bachelor's degree in agriculture, but only a high school diploma is typically required. Some high schools offer basic courses in farming and animal husbandry, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs courses intended to help farmers learn the trade. However, some farmers grew up on farms themselves and learned by doing the work as a child and teenager. Without experience, some aspiring farmers work on other farms to gain the necessary skills to eventually run their own farm.

There is an optional certification offered by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers that shows a farmer has the necessary skills to run a farm. The Accredited Farm Manager credential involves 85 hours of coursework and passing scores on an exam. It also requires a bachelor's degree and at least four years of ranch management experience.

What Skills Do You Need to Farm?

Farming is a physical career. Farmers need a fair amount of strength and stamina to do the work of planting, watering, fertilizing and harvesting crops. In larger-scale operations (and even most small ones) farmers operate huge tractors, plows and harvesters, so mechanical know-how is a must, too. On a mental level, farmers must be able to analyze a range of factors, think critically and make judgment calls when problems arise.

What's the Pay Like for Farmers?

Your income as a farmer is dependent on a wide array of factors, some of which are out of your control. The weather, supply costs and the final sale price of any crops will all affect your annual salary. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers brought home a median salary of $67,950 as of May 2018.

Is Farming a Growing Field?

The BLS projects little or no change to the employment numbers for farmers. Farms are becoming more and more consolidated; there are less of them, but they are larger. And, advances in farming equipment technology are reducing the necessity for many hands on the job. As a result, the BLS predicted a total decrease of 1% in employment for farmers from 2018 to 2028.

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