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Nature of the Work
(D.O.T. 180.117, .161, and .167-018, -026 through -046, -058, and -066; 401.161; 402.161; 403.161; 404.161; 405.161; 407.161; 410.161; 411.161; 412.161; 413.161; 421.161; and 446.161)
* Modern farming requires work experience, sometimes acquired through growing up on a farm, and formal education, preferably a bachelor's degree in agriculture or in business with a concentration in agriculture.
* Overall employment is projected to decline due to increasing productivity and consolidation in the highly efficient agricultural production industry.
American farmers and farm managers direct the activities of one of the world's largest and most productive agricultural sectors. They produce enough food and fiber to meet the needs of our Nation, and to export huge quantities to countries around the world.
Farmers may be farmer-owners or tenant farmers, who rent the use of land. Their specific tasks are determined by the type of farm they operate. On crop farmsfarms growing grain, cotton and other fibers, fruit, and vegetablesfarmers are responsible for planning, tilling, planting, fertilizing, cultivating, spraying, and harvesting. After the harvest, they make sure the crops are properly packaged, stored or marketed. On livestock, dairy, and poultry farms, farmers must feed, and plan and care for the animals and keep barns, pens, coops, and other farm buildings clean and in good condition. They also oversee breeding and marketing activities. On horticultural specialty farms, farmers oversee the production of ornamental plants, nursery productssuch as flowers, bulbs, shrubbery, and sodand fruits and vegetables grown in greenhouses. On aquaculture farms, farmers raise fish and shellfish in marine, brackish, or fresh water, usually in ponds, floating net pens, raceways, or recirculating systems. They stock, feed, protect, and otherwise manage aquatic life sold for consumption or used for recreational fishing.
Farmers must make many managerial decisions. Their farm output is strongly influenced by the weather, disease, fluctuations in prices of domestic and foreign farm products, and Federal farm programs. In a crop operation, farmers usually determine the best time to plant seed, apply fertilizer and chemicals, harvest, and market. They carefully plan the combination of crops they grow so if the price of one crop drops, they will have sufficient income from another to make up for the loss. Crop and livestock prices change frequently from one month to another. Farmers who plan ahead may be able to store their crops or keep their livestock to take advantage of better prices later in the year. Those who participate in the futures marketwhere contracts and options on futures contracts on commodities are traded through stock brokerstry to anticipate or track changes in the supply of and demand for agricultural commodities, and thus changes in the prices of farm products. By buying or selling futures contracts, or by pricing their products in advance of future sales, they attempt to either limit their risk or reap greater profits than would normally be realized. They may have to secure loans from credit agencies to finance the purchase of machinery, fertilizer, livestock, and feed. Farming operations have become more complex in recent years, so many farmers use computers to keep their extensive financial and inventory records. They also use computer databases and spreadsheets to manage breeding, dairy, and other farm operations.
Farmers perform tasks ranging from caring for livestock, to operating machinery and maintaining equipment and facilities. The size of the farm often determines which of these tasks farmers will handle themselves. Operators of large farms have employees who do much of the physical work that small-farm operators do themselves. Farmers are responsible for training workers in the use of equipment, and supervising them in the performance of their work. Although employment on most farms is limited to the farmer and one or two family workers or hired employees, some large farms have 100 or more full-time and seasonal workers. Some of these employees are in nonfarm occupations, working as truckdrivers, sales representatives, bookkeepers, and computer specialists.
Farm managers guide and assist farmers and ranchers in maximizing the financial returns to their land by managing the day-to-day activities. Their duties and responsibilities vary widely. For example, the owner of a very large livestock farm may employ a farm manager to oversee a single activity, such as feeding livestock. When managing a small crop farm for an absentee owner, on the other hand, a farm manager may assume responsibility for all functions, from selecting the crops to participating in planting and harvesting. Farm management firms and corporations involved in agriculture employ highly trained professional farm managers who may manage farm operations or oversee tenant operators of several farms. In these cases, farm managers may establish output goals; determine financial constraints; monitor production and marketing; hire, assign, and supervise workers; determine crop transportation and storage requirements; and oversee maintenance of the property and equipment.
The work of farmers and farm managers is often strenuous, their work hours are frequently long, and their days off are sometimes infrequent. Of those who work full time, more than half work 60 or more hours a week. Nevertheless, to those who enter farming, these disadvantages are outweighed by the opportunities for living in a rural area, working outdoors, being self-employed, and making a living working the land.
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 next season's crops, market their output, and repair machinery; some may earn additional income by working a second job off the farm.
On livestock producing farms, work goes on throughout the year. Animals must be fed and watered every day, unless they are grazing, and dairy cows must be milked two or three times a day. Farmers rarely get the chance to get away unless they hire an assistant or arrange for a temporary substitute.
Farm work can be hazardous. The proper operation of equipment and handling of chemicals is required to ensure a safe working environment.
On very large farms, farmers spend substantial time meeting with farm managers or farm supervisors in charge of various activities. Professional farm managers overseeing several farms may divide their time between traveling to meet farmers or landowners and planning the farm operations in their offices. As farming practices and agricultural technology become more sophisticated, farmers and farm managers are spending more time in offices and at computers, where they electronically manage many aspects of the business.
Farmers and farm managers held nearly 1.3 million jobs in 1996. About 85 percent were self-employed farmers. Most managed crop production activities while others managed livestock and dairy production. A relatively small number were involved in agricultural services, such as contract harvesting and farm labor contracting.
The soil, topography of the land, and the climate of an area generally determine the type of farming done. For example, wheat, corn, and other grains are most efficiently grown on large farms on level land where large, complex machinery can be used. Thus, these crops are prevalent on the prairies and plains of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Kansas, and southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Crops requiring longer growing seasons, such as cotton, tobacco, and peanuts, are grown chiefly in the South. Most of the country's fruits and vegetables come from California, Texas, and Florida. Many dairy herds are found in the areas with good pasture land, such as Wisconsin, New York, and Minnesota. However, in recent years dairy farming has expanded rapidly in California, Arizona, and Texas.
Growing up on a family farm and participating in agricultural programs for young people sponsored by the National Future Farmers of America Organization or the 4-H youth educational programs are important sources of training for those interested in pursuing agriculture as a career. However, modern farming requires increasingly complex scientific, business, and financial decisions. Therefore, even people who were raised on farms must acquire the appropriate education. High school training should include courses in mathematics and the sciences. Completion of a 2-year and preferably a 4-year bachelor's degree program in a college of agriculture is becoming increasingly important.
Not all future farm managers grow up on farms. For these people, a bachelor's degree in business with a concentration in agriculture is important. In addition to formal education, they will need several years' work experience in the different aspects of farm operations in order to qualify for a farm manager position.
Students should select the college most appropriate to their specific interests and location. In the United States, all State university systems have one land-grant university with a school of agriculture. Common programs of study include agronomy, dairy science, agricultural economics and business, horticulture, crop and fruit science, and animal science. For students interested in aquaculture, formal programs are available, and include coursework in fisheries biology, fish culture, hatchery management and maintenance, and hydrology. Whatever one's interest, the college curriculum should include courses in agricultural production, finance, and economics.
Professional status can be enhanced through voluntary certification as an Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Certification requires several years of farm management experience and the appropriate academic backgrounda bachelor's degree or preferably a master's degree in a field of agricultural scienceand passing courses and examinations relating to business, financial, and legal aspects of farm management.
Farmers and farm managers need to keep abreast of continuing advances in farming methods both in the United States and abroad. They should be willing to try new processes and adapt to constantly changing technologies to produce their crops or raise their livestock more efficiently. Farmers must also have enough technical knowledge of crops, growing conditions, and plant and animal diseases to make decisions ensuring the successful operation of their farms. Knowledge of the relationship between farm operationsfor example, the use of pesticidesand environmental conditions is essential. Mechanical aptitude and the ability to work with tools of all kinds are also valuable skills for the operator of a small farm, who often maintains and repairs machinery or farm structures.
Farmers and farm managers must have the managerial skills necessary to organize and operate a business. A basic knowledge of accounting and bookkeeping can be helpful in keeping financial records, and a knowledge of credit sources is essential. They must also be familiar with complex safety regulations and requirements of government agricultural support programs. Computer skills are increasingly important, especially on large farms, where computers are widely used for recordkeeping and business analysis. For example, some farmers use personal computers to get the latest information on prices of farm products and other agricultural news.
Employment of farmers and farm managers is expected to continue to decline through the year 2006. The expanding world population is increasing the demand for food and fiber. In particular, improving economies and increasing personal income in developing nations have resulted in better diets and stronger demand for beef, poultry, pork, and feed grain. However, increasing productivity in the highly efficient agricultural production industry is expected to meet domestic and export requirements with fewer farmers and farm managers. The overwhelming majority of job openings will result from the need to replace farmers who retire or leave the occupation for economic or other reasons.
The long-term trend toward fewer and larger farms is expected to continue during the 1996-2006 period, as consolidation takes place in response to market pressures, further reducing the number of jobs for farmers and farm managers. Some farmers acquire farms by inheritance; however, purchasing a farm or additional land is expensive and requires substantial capital. In addition, sufficient funds are required to withstand the adverse effects of climate and price fluctuations upon farm output and income and to cover operating costslivestock, feed, seed, and fuel. Also, the complexity of modern farming and keen competition among farmers leave little room for the marginally successful farmer.
Despite the projected decline in overall employment of farmers and farm managers, aquaculture should continue to provide new employment opportunities over the 1996-2006 period. Overfishing has resulted in reduced ocean catch, and the growing demand for certain seafood itemssuch as shrimp, salmon, and catfishhas spurred the growth of aquaculture farms. Aquaculture output increased strongly between 1983 and the mid-1990s, as indicated by the accompanying chart. Efforts to produce more farm-raised fish and shellfish should continue in response to demand.
Farmers' incomes vary greatly from year to year, because prices of farm products fluctuate depending upon weather conditions and other factors that influence the amount and quality of farm output and the demand for those products. A farm that shows a large profit in one year may show a loss in the following year. Under the 1996 Farm Act, Federal Government subsidy payments, which have traditionally shielded some grain producers from the ups and downs of the market, are fixed regardless of yields or prices. Consequently, these farmers may experience more income variability from year to year than in the past. The Act also phases out price supports for dairy farmers, and may result in lower incomes for dairy producers. Many farmersprimarily operators of small farmshave income from off-farm business activities, often greater than that of their farm income.
Farm income also varies greatly depending upon the type and size of farm. For example, vegetable and cotton farms, and nurseries and greenhouses generally produce the highest income; fruit, nut, corn, and peanut farms produce more moderate income; and beef and hog farms generate relatively low income. Generally, large farms generate more income than small farms. Exceptions include some low volume specialty farms producing high value horticultural and fruit products.
Full-time, salaried farm managers, with the exception of horticultural managers, had median earnings of $485 a week in 1996. The middle half earned between $325 and $650 a week. The highest paid 10 percent earned about $760 a week in 1996, while the lowest paid 10 percent made less than $205 a week. Horticultural specialty farm managers generally earn considerably more.
Farmers and self-employed farm managers make their own provisions for benefits. As members of farm organizations, they may derive benefits such as group discounts on health and life insurance premiums. Salaried farm managers may receive housing and usual organizational benefits.
Farmers and farm managers strive to improve the quality of agricultural products and the efficiency of farms. Workers with similar functions include agricultural engineers, animal breeders, animal scientists, county agricultural agents, dairy scientists, extension service specialists, feed and farm management advisors, horticulturists, plant breeders, and poultry scientists.
For general information about farming and agricultural occupations, contact:
American Farm Bureau Federation, 225 Touhy Ave., Park Ridge, IL 60068. Homepage: http://www.fb.com
For information about certification as an accredited farm manager, contact:
American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, 950 South Cherry St., Suite 508, Denver, CO 80222. Homepage: http://www.agriassociations.org .
For general information about farm occupations, opportunities, and 4-H activities, contact your local county extension service office.
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