What Type of Work Is Done on a Farm?

What Type of Work Is Done on a Farm?

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If you don’t want to spend your career tied to a desk, you might be interested in working outdoors. Farming is one such career, but what kind of jobs on a farm can a person find?

Different kinds of jobs on a farm include managing the soil and crops, maintaining the farm, and making sure the farm makes a profit. Jobs on a farm include farmworkers, mechanics, warehouse workers, farmworker advocates, and food and agricultural researchers.

Almost anyone may find a niche in the agricultural industry that matches their skill set, needs, and objectives. If you are undecided about whether agriculture is the right career for you, keep reading to learn more about the different types of career options available to you.

The Jobs That Are Done on a Farm

Jobs on a farm can be grouped into four main categories. On smaller farms, the farm owners might do most of these tasks. Large farms, however, often require workers with specialized skills. Let’s discuss these skills further.

Keeping the Soil Fertile

No farm can be successful unless the land is fertile. 

Chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers, or combinations will be used for maximum soil fertility. Farmers must also minimize erosion by carefully timing cultivation and planting, managing water runoff, and employing other techniques to keep soil from washing away. 

Fertility management can be done with hand tools, horses, or mechanical equipment, depending on the size of the farm. The level of specialization required for this aspect of farming depends on the size of the farm, its location, and the crops.

Managing Crops or Livestock

A farmer may raise a range of crops or specialize in a few. Others own farms that cultivate trees for fruit or nuts or specialized crops like grapes or Christmas trees. 

Each crop must be planted, protected against insects, and irrigated.   

Many farmers use pesticides to keep insects at bay and fungicides to prevent fungal illnesses. Orchards need to be pruned, and crops must be harvested and processed.

Some farms specialize in raising or breeding livestock such as cattle and dairy cows, and the animals must be fed and watered. Horses, for example, require grooming, training, and other sorts of care, such as shoeing, and milk cows must be milked. 

Mares and cows must be bred, monitored throughout their pregnancy, and assisted in giving birth if needed. Veterinary services such as vaccines, worming, and castration is often required.

Maintaining the Farm

A farm has many upkeep needs. Fences and structures must be maintained, and someone must keep the tractors and other machinery in working order. Some of the work can be done by farmers, but complicated machinery requires mechanics to keep them in working order. 

In addition, upkeep might include electrical or plumbing skills.  

Managing the Business

Whether small or large, a farm is a company, and the farmer must keep track of crops and animals, sales and expenses, profits and losses, and payroll. Large farms frequently rely on a combination of permanent employees and seasonal agricultural workers. 

Agricultural managers oversee the day-to-day activities of a farm. The farm owner or manager is responsible for finding, hiring, and paying farm laborers and ensuring that all labor rules are obeyed. 

This can include applying for and validating visas for foreign workers and supplying migrant workers with housing. On smaller farms, this work is often done by the farmer as they will only need seasonal farm hands during the harvesting season. 

Choosing the Type Of Job You Want

There is far more to working a farm than planting and picking crops or caring for livestock. Many behind-the-scenes tasks must be done, some of which require minimum experience. 

Others, however, require more experience and possibly a degree.

The National FFA (Future Farmers of America) organization has broken agricultural jobs into nine focus areas and over 200 agricultural-related careers. 

These jobs can be broken into the following categories:

  • Jobs related to growing food or managing livestock: These are the jobs people think of first, such as a farmworker, arborist, or herdsman.
  • Jobs related to running a farm: Larger farms need an accountant, salespeople, haulers, equipment managers, and more to keep the business side of the farm running. These could also include people who keep the equipment running.
  • Specialized jobs that support farming: These include irrigation specialists, plant biologists, produce inspectors, soil scientists, and veterinarians. These jobs are important to food production but are not part of the day-to-day operation of a farm.

General Farmworker 

Farmworkers, sometimes known as farmhands, are manual laborers who work under the direction of farmers and ranchers. They may harvest crops, aid with irrigation systems, or apply fertilizer and pesticides to promote crop growth while weeds and insects are controlled.

These workers feed livestock and help with livestock herding and the operation of farm machinery and tools. 

Some farmworkers specialize in crops or livestock, but most do whatever is needed.

Seasonal and Migrant Farmworker

A farm worker can be either migrant or seasonal. A migrant farmworker travels between farms, often in different states. Seasonal farmworkers work for shorter periods, and it is not their only source of income.

Both types participate in the picking and processing of produce, whether it be vegetables or fruit. Whether seasonal or migrant, the work and working conditions are similar.  

And the work can be brutal. Farmworkers often do not have adequate access to water and shade. In addition, because most are paid by how much they pick, they are reluctant to take breaks, which often leads to dehydration.

Let’s discuss further the issues that affect the seasonal or migrant farmworker.

Health Concerns

Farm laborers commonly wear long-sleeve shirts to shield them from pesticides and the sun, raising their body temperature even more. In addition, many farm laborers are exposed to direct sunshine and have little access to shade, making them susceptible to heat stress.

Pesticide use has long been a health concern for farmworkers. 

Crop spraying and re-entering fields prematurely after being sprayed can result in direct exposure. In addition, farmworkers can be exposed indirectly by handling pesticide containers, coming into touch with pesticide residue on plants, and breathing in “pesticide drifts” from nearby fields. 

Inadequate training and safety equipment put farmworkers at risk of immediate and long-term injury. In addition, health care access is limited at many farms, further increasing the risks to migrant farmworkers.

Farmworker Pay

One might think that farmworkers would be paid well for the added risks they take. 

However, that is not the case. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, salaries for farmworkers and laborers average between $24,600 in Florida to $32,710 in Washington state. 

However, those statistics include workers in nurseries, greenhouses, and retail. In addition, these figures include income from other sources. And since these figures are averages, many farmworkers make less. 

Based on the National Agricultural Workers Survey, 25% of farm laborers’ income falls below the federal poverty line.

A farmworker is often not paid an hourly wage but how much they pick. Even for the most productive farmworker, the pick rate, which is the amount they are paid per pound, is not enough to make minimum wage. 

Technically, farms must pay farmworkers minimum wage, but many find loopholes around that requirement.

Some people work as seasonal farmworkers to make money during harvest season. Others use the experience to get a better-paying job on a farm. However, the majority of seasonal farmworkers have few other opportunities for advancement.

Grain Elevator Operator

The grain elevator operator is responsible for the complete grain elevator process, including moving wheat, equipment operation and maintenance, and sanitation. 

Grain elevator operators might be responsible for calculating grain quotas, buying grain, inspecting the grain quality, organizing transportation or storage, and operating the grain machinery. They also load grain onto trucks and railcars. 

In some cases, they have fertilizers, pesticides, and other farm supplies to sell.

Pay and Education for Grain Elevators

The pay range for this kind of position is from $30,000 up to $80,000, depending on the size of the grain and industry. At larger farms, these positions include benefits, including health insurance. 

Expect to work a minimum of 40 hours, with more during harvest season. 

Typically a combination of experience in agriculture, manufacturing, and post-high school education are the minimum requirements.   

Agricultural Mechanic

Agricultural mechanics are responsible for a wide range of jobs, including the repair and maintenance of large diesel equipment like grain harvesters and smaller vehicles like pickups and farm trucks. 

Examples of other farm equipment services include:

  • Small engine repair of pumps, sprinklers, pesticide, and herbicide sprayers. 
  • Specialist tasks such as hydraulic maintenance and repair, and welding.
  • Electronics system installation and repair.

Mechanics may work for equipment dealers, establish their own repair shops, or work in a shop specializing in a particular subject, such as small engine repair, and provide farm equipment services.

Agricultural mechanics may be required to travel to the farm or ranch to service and repair the equipment. 

Heavy equipment can break down in the field or need on-site maintenance. Mobile farm mechanics are more likely to have greater experience and frequently have specially equipped repair vehicles with essential tools and components.

Pay and Education for Agricultural Mechanics

Mechanics that take care of farm equipment make between $35,000 and $45,000. 

Some farms offer compensation packages that include insurance and vacation, and sick time. Most require that you have at least a high school diploma, although additional vocational education can help a candidate stand out.

Experience and ability are more important to a farmer. Larger farms hire mechanics with several years of experience working with small equipment. 

So if this is something you are interested in, start by helping out smaller farms.

Farm Manager

A farm manager is in charge of the day-to-day operations of a farming operation and is unlikely to spend time undertaking hands-on farming activities on large farms. Instead, they oversee the farm’s business operations. 

This includes employing and supervising the laborers responsible for most of the farm’s labor. 

They also look at previous production statistics and long-term weather projections to figure out when the optimal time is to sow crops, harvest, and market the yield.

A farm manager may also be responsible for the farm’s financial management. Farms are susceptible to conditions outside of a manager’s control, including weather, disease, or other causes of crop failure. 

To make informed judgments for the farm, managers must assess the risks and research the market. Furthermore, most farms borrow money to purchase seeds, new livestock, and equipment. 

Therefore, a farm manager might deal with lenders to borrow money. On small farms, a manager needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and might also work in the field, help with livestock, or operate and repair equipment.

Pay and Education for Farm Managers

The average pay for farm managers ranges in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, based on the size of the farm, experience, and location. While you can work as a farm manager without a degree, having one will help you successfully manage the enterprise. Look into associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in agricultural business, animal science, or agronomy, for example.

Also, business classes can be beneficial for understanding the financial aspects of running a farm. Previous work on a farm is essential to earning a farm manager position.

Warehouse Manager

A warehouse manager is responsible for storing and packaging a farm’s produce and the proper storage of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. They also manage the employees at the warehouse. 

Responsibilities would also include shipping, receiving, and unloading of all products.  

This position requires background knowledge in bookkeeping, inventory management, and operational procedures of a farm warehouse. This person is rarely involved in the farm’s day-to-day operations but must be kept apprised of crops and livestock production status.

Pay and Education for Warehouse Manager

Pay for warehouse managers is more difficult to predict due to several variables. 

First, some warehouse managers work for one farm, and others manage a warehouse used by several farms. In addition, the warehouse might be owned by a company that sells to farms, such as a seed production or chemical company. 

Expect a beginning salary in the $40,000 to $50,000 range with benefits.

A candidate for this position would know how to run a warehouse and handle and store produce. Therefore, having a degree in agricultural business will apply accounting, management, and inventory skills as to how it relates to the agriculture industry. 

Agricultural Warehouse Inspector

Warehouse inspectors work for the federal government, ensuring that agricultural warehouses follow best practices in the handling and storage of food as well as workplace enforcement. They can also be involved in the investigation of disease outbreaks.

Agricultural commodity graders ensure that farms correctly grade their produce. And agricultural commodity aids provide educational and financial assistance resources to small farmers.

Although the average pay for an inspector is $76,000, there are less than 50 positions nationwide. Graders make an average of $57,000, with nearly 2,000 positions nationwide. Community aid workers make less than $35,000 a year.

Sales and Office Support 

Farms need sales and office support as well. Larger farms might have a separate position for office support working under the farm manager. On a smaller farm, one person might be required to serve both functions.

These duties could include the following:

  • Correspondence and communicating with vendors.
  • Social media posts.
  • Maintaining safety records.
  • Providing support and communicating with sales sites, including farmers’ markets or local co-ops.
  • Managing reimbursements and keeping good office records.

Read the job descriptions clearly to know if you qualify. Generally, a degree is not required for these positions, but you should have experience with customer service, computer skills, and work well with others. 

Pay varies by the job, and some positions will pay an hourly wage while others weekly.

Specialized Jobs

Farming is one of the lowest-paying careers in the country, and the farmworkers responsible for harvesting produce are the least paid of all. In addition, farmers rely on researchers to help them improve the yield and efficiency of crops and farm work.  

These jobs may not be on the farm, but most of these jobs interact frequently with farmers.

Support Services and Advocacy

Support and advocacy jobs can take several forms. While support jobs provide medical, educational, translation, or other services farmworkers have limited access to, advocates work to improve the conditions and pay of farmworkers.

Groups like Farmworker Justice and National Farm Workers Ministry work on a national level to advocate to improve the working conditions of farmworkers. State organizations like Farmworkers Advocacy Network focus on the unique needs of workers in that state. 

And groups like Students Actions with Farmworkers focus on student-led advocacy.

Other groups focus on specific needs. One such group is NC Farmworker Health Program, which helps local agencies find opportunities to provide health care to farmworkers, who often live in rural areas with little access to health care.

To find work opportunities with advocacy groups, use their websites as a starting point. The sites will give you an idea of the agency’s goals, which will help you tailor your application letter to the position.

Salaries for advocacy positions range from internship experiences which pay hourly, to fellowships, research, and executive management positions that might pay anywhere from $30,000 to twice that much. 

Positions for executive directors for national advocacy groups, like Farm Worker Justice, can be over $100k.

Science-Related Jobs

Food and agricultural scientists research and create procedures for making, storing, and packing food. In addition, they examine the nutritional makeup of products, investigate new ways to grow produce food, and develop techniques for making foods healthier or more delicious.

Agricultural scientists study crops and food production technologies by conducting experiments and analyzing data. 

Farmers might use their research to boost agricultural output or improve the quality of our food supply. This work includes traveling to farm sites to oversee experiments. 

They must subsequently share their findings and potential solutions with other members of the scientific community, as well as policymakers in some cases. Scientists with more expertise will lead and coordinate large research projects.

Much of their days are spent in laboratories and offices, as they utilize computer software to analyze data and provide detailed reports. 

In addition, scientists may visit farms to conduct fieldwork.  

Pay and Education for Food and Agriculture Scientists

Most jobs in this field require that you have at minimum a bachelor’s degree in food science or an agricultural-related specialization. 

Research positions at universities require advanced degrees. Businesses might not require researchers to have a Ph.D., but they will almost always want someone with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or food science.

Pay varies considerably based on industry, experience, and degree. 

For example, a graduate student might get a stipend to assist with projects while professors will be paid based on degree, longevity, and university. Business pay will be more competitive.  

Job Outlook for Farm Jobs

Although automation and technology have become more prevalent in farming, most of the produce we eat is still handpicked. In addition, farmers need employees who can run and fix the equipment. 

Therefore, there are still farm jobs to be had.

In a 2021 Ag Job Labor Survey, 41% of respondents said finding a job was easier than in the past, and another 41% said the difficulty was about the same. Those who had difficulty finding jobs reported it was due to employers increasing the requirements for a job.

In the same survey, 87% of farmers report having more difficulties filling jobs. 

They believe that workers leave to work in industries that pay better and provide better hours and benefits. Job searchers also say that less competition for jobs has made it easier to find work.

When asked what their biggest labor challenge was, nearly 70% reported finding qualified and/or temporary labor. Another factor that increases the demand for workers is that in the same survey, over 40% of farmers who currently do not have any employees were planning to hire in the upcoming years.

How To Find Jobs on a Farm

Finding jobs on farms is not always difficult if you apply at the right time of the year and have experience or the necessary skills. 

If you have no experience working on a farm, look for part-time or internship positions.

Part-time positions are a win-win for beginners. A farm can hire someone for peak positions, and a beginner can learn the ropes. On a mid-sized farm, a beginner will be asked to help out in various aspects of farming, including planting, cultivation, harvesting, and preparing and packing produce.

Internship and part-time positions are common on organic and you-pick farms. 

These farms tend to be smaller and cannot afford full-time staff. However, their pay is competitive because they can charge more for their produce. 

Job Searches on the Internet

Searching for farming jobs is much more efficient through the net. However, distances between farms might mean you spend most of your day driving, not interviewing. 

The following are some sites that focus on farm jobs:

  • Pick Your Own: Jobs on Farms: If you are looking for a summer farm job, check out this site. Although the focus is on pick-your-own farms, the site also has links to other job boards. In addition, you can search for jobs by region or state.
  • AG Careers: This site claims to be an exhaustive job search site, and it’s useful for specialized jobs and higher-paying gigs. To get the most out of it, create an account so that you’ll have access to better searches. You can also sign up for email job alerts.
  • ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture: List of Internships: The site is focused on internships and sustainable agriculture.  
  • Back Door Jobs: Sustainable Living and Farming Jobs: This is another job board focusing on organic, biodynamic, and farms with CSA programs, and it’s another excellent site for beginners. The site gives detailed information about the farms.
  • Farm and Ranch Jobs: Find Jobs: This site is easy to navigate and lets you search by category. However, it has a limited number of listings compared to the other job boards.

Indeed, Glassdoor, and related sites will list some farm jobs, but those sites will show you nearby jobs. The farming sites give you a better idea of what’s available on a state or national level.

Other Outdoor Jobs To Consider

If you do not have a degree for a better-paying farm job or cannot find seasonal work, there are a few other ways to work outdoors and still get paid. 

The most obvious one is landscaping or groundskeeping, but those often don’t pay well.

However, foresters and conservation workers perform a variety of forestry duties. Counting trees, tagging trees to be harvested, and planting trees in specific locations are all common tasks. In addition, they frequently labor in rural areas, whether on private property or in state and national parks and wildlife refuges.

Although most conservation worker jobs only require a high school diploma, some organizations prefer to hire people with at least an associate’s degree in forestry. In addition, because the jobs are often remote, the pay is higher to keep and retain workers.

Logging work is generally found in isolated locations around the country. However, if you have high school graduation or a GED, you can usually get a job as a logging worker.

You will be trimming trees, setting up pulley systems, felling chopping trees up once they are downed, operating machinery that saws or transports logs, and examining sawed logs for defects, among other things.

Bottom Line

Even though some people don’t think of farming as glamorous, imagine where we would be without farmers. A farm is more than a plot of land. The soil must be kept fertile, the produce stored and transported, the employees paid, and the equipment must be repaired and maintained. 

Advocates lookout for the farmworkers, and researchers look for ways to improve production. As long as people need to eat, there will be jobs in the agricultural industry.

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