A guide to careers in agriculture and farming
Some people find the idea of a career in agriculture hilarious.
They think it is all mud, wellies and sticking your arm up the business end of a cow.
But this shows a lack of appreciation for the complexities of modern agriculture, which offers a broad range of careers across an increasingly diverse range of businesses.
Agriculture is an exciting global industry that uses cutting-edge technology, is constantly innovating and is an important contributor to the national economy.
What’s more, it is actively looking to recruit bright, ambitious young people.
Eight compelling reasons to work in agriculture
- Great employment rates:
- Labour shortage:
- The “office” is nice: Working in agriculture involves living and working in some of the most beautiful parts of the countryside.
- People like it: A Farmers Trend survey found 88% of those who work in the supply trade would recommend agriculture as a long-term career choice.
- Good long-term prospects: People are always going to need to eat and the global population is growing.
- Pay is better than you think: Average salaries in agriculture exceed the national average.
- You’ll live longer: Our Statistics found people who live in the countryside live longer than people who are based in urban areas.
- You don’t need to come from a farm: There are thousands of jobs that don’t require you to come from a farming background.
What sort of jobs are there?
The range is endless.
There are jobs based on farms, but you can also work in agriculture as an engineer, scientist, researcher, business advisor, trader, manager, retailer, food manufacturer or vet.
These are the people who do practical work on a farm and it can involve working with crops, livestock or both.
Farmworkers need to be able to cope with physical work and need to be adaptable because the job will be different from week to week, depending on the time of year.
The work can involve operating machinery in order to cultivate fields, drill crops, apply chemicals and then harvest them.
Alternatively, workers might be feeding animals, caring for sick or newborn stock or milking dairy cows.
Farm managers need to have strong practical and business skills, as well as a strong technical understanding of growing crops and rearing livestock.
Their job is to plan, organise and manage all the activities on a farm, including staff.
This can involve practical work such as operating machinery and looking after stock, but is also is likely to require financial and strategic planning, budgeting, buying and selling.
A consultant offers advice and support to farmers or landowners to help them run their business in a more profitable and efficient way.
They may specialise in business management advice, which could involve helping to plan business structure, budgeting, cashflow and meeting regulatory requirements.
Or they can be more of a technical specialist where they offer advice on what crops to grow, what to feed livestock and when best to sell the end product.
Agronomists work with farmers to make sure that the crops they grow are healthy and produce as much yield as possible.
As plant specialists, they are sometimes described as “crop doctors” because they decide what chemicals should be used in order to control weeds and to keep crops disease free.
They have to be familiar with a complex regulatory framework and need to physically examine crop fields by walking through them on a regular basis during the growing season to make sure they spot early signs of any potential problems. This means the job can be physically as well as mentally challenging.
– Feed specialists advise farmers on what to feed their animals in order to maximise growth, reproduction, health and performance.
They will meet dairy, beef and sheep farmers to evaluate the chemical and nutritional value of feeds and formulate a ration that will help them optimise costs and performance from the feed.
The ability to understand and communicate technical information is, therefore, important.
Getting the feeding of an animal right makes the difference between making a profit and making a loss.
There is need for people to sell a wide range of goods to farmers – from farm machinery, to feed, fertiliser and seed.
The role requires people who are able to listen to the needs of the farmer, share information and advice and make recommendations regarding the products that would best suit the customer.
Sales people in agriculture are expected to be specialists in their areas and are often used by farmers as an adviser, as well as provider of goods.
As such, the ability to build strong long-term relationships with farmers is vital. They will also need to identify and develop new business opportunities.
Grain buyers are the people who buy wheat, barley, oilseed rape and other crops from farmers for use in the production of food for humans and animals.
Buyers will work closely with farmers in order to negotiate the purchase of their crops and will communicate the latest market information to them to help them come to a marketing decision.
This is likely to involve lots of telephone contact, but also visits to a client’s farms to meet face-to-face.
What sort of people does agriculture suit?
Much depends on what exact sort of job you are considering.
People who are looking at hands-on farming need to be/have:
- Comfortable working outside in all weather
- Good practical skills
- Able to solve problems without assistance
- Understanding of how machines and tools work and are maintained
- Good numerical skills to be able to calculate application rates or business costs
Workers in the supply industry will be required to have many of the same skills, but will probably also need to be comfortable in a team environment, able to meet targets and have good communication skills.
Overall, agriculture is an industry that suits people with an interest in technology, science, the environment and business.
How can I get work experience?
Work experience is invaluable and there are some agricultural courses that will require you to have some practical farm experience before starting.
Many of the ancillary industries also like people who have completed some work on a farm as it gives them a greater appreciation of the practical challenges facing their customers.
To approach a local farmer to ask if there is a possibility of work experience, write a short letter that explains who you are, why you are interested and what help you might be able to offer.
Do some research first though as there’s no point in sending a letter to a dairy farm asking to help out with lambing.
If you get no rely from the letter, follow up with a polite phone call a couple of weeks later.
Lunchtime can be a good time to call because farmers are more likely to consider your request if they aren’t in the middle of an important job.
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