Farmers usually operate farms that produce livestock, crops, and vegetables and produce enough crops and livestock for private sales or wholesale to companies. About 7 in 10 farmers and ranchers are self-employed and many work on family-owned farms. There is no typical work week; farmers and ranchers work hours that are determined by the needs.
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How to Become a Farmer or Rancher
Farmers and ranchers typically have a high school diploma and obtain their skills through work experience. Work experience is usually gained through growing up on a farm or working under experienced farmers. Because of this industry’s complexities and costs, farmers and ranchers increasingly are pursuing postsecondary education. An associates degree or bachelor’s degree in agriculture or related field is how some people become a farmer.
Farmers and ranchers can gain education in farming through several government programs. All state university systems offer a minimum of one land-grant college or university with a school of agriculture. These programs have courses in plant breeding, agronomy, business (with a concentration in agriculture), farm management, agricultural economics, and dairy science.
Job Description of a Farmer or Rancher
Farmers and ranchers oversee and contribute to every step of the ranging process and crop production to include herding, planting, harvesting, and fertilizing. They purchase farm machinery, seed, fertilizers, and other supplies and ensure machinery and equipment is in good repair and well-maintained. They must also keep the farm facilities (like fences, hoses, pipes, and animal shelters) in good working order. He or she must be flexible and able to adapt to weather conditions, seasons, or a crop’s growing cycle.
Free Student and Teacher Resources
To learn more about farming, you can also check out the National Young Farmers Coalition website.
Wageningen University offers a free course on EdX.org titled Sustainable Food Security: The value of systems thinking (link opens in a new tab) with the option to pay a small fee receive a verified certificate upon completion of the course.
By taking this course, you’ll learn:
- The concept of environmental sustainability and identify the main issues associated with food production.
- The basics of systems thinking and understand how the different aspects of a system influence one another and how a system itself is affected by its context.
- The relevance of crop and livestock productivity for environmental sustainability.
- The environmental indicators and how to measure the environmental impact of food production at farm, village or regional level
- Decision-making and life cycle assessment.
- Helpful tools and their strong and weak points.
Agricultural Workers Career Video
Agricultural workers need physical strength and stamina to keep up with their tasks, but they also need technical skills and strong teamwork. These workers maintain crops and tend to livestock, under the supervision of farmers and ranchers. Although some agricultural workers do all types of work around a farm, many focus on a few tasks.
Agricultural equipment operators use tractors, combines, conveyor belts, and other farm equipment to plow and sow seeds, then maintain and harvest crops. They also perform minor repairs on the equipment. Crop, nursery, and greenhouse farmworkers and laborers grow fruit, nuts, trees, flowers, and other crops through every phase from planting and pruning, to harvesting and loading for shipment.
Farm and ranch animal farmworkers feed and care for animals, including cattle, pigs, goats, fish, and bees. They monitor their health, clean shelters, and administer medications or insecticides. Animal breeders select and breed animals to produce offspring with desired characteristics, such as chickens that lay more eggs. Some raise cats, dogs, and other pets. Many agricultural workers have seasonal schedules, with longer hours during planting or harvesting times.
The work is nearly all outdoors in all kinds of weather, and involves lifting, crouching, and carrying heavy tools. Risks include exposure to pesticides, and injury from farm machinery or farm animals. Typically, specific education is not required, and on-the-job training is provided. Animal breeders need a high school diploma or equivalent, and must be licensed in some states. A valid driver’s license is required for some jobs.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers.
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The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.