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What is this job like?
Farmers grow crops and raise animals. American farmers run some of the most productive farms in the world. Many sell their extra produce to other countries.
Farmers decide when to plant, fertilize, harvest, and sell crops.
Farmers watch the prices for the crops they produce and try to sell at the best time. They choose what types of machinery, seeds, and animals to buy. Farmers must be aware of new farming technology and learn about new farming methods.
Farms are complex businesses. Farmers use computers to keep records. Many farmers also supervise other workers. During busy seasons, a large farm can have more than 100 workers.
Farmers use machines to plant and harvest crops. Some also use machines to feed or milk animals.
Crop farmers grow grains, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. They till soil, fertilize, plant, spray, and harvest. Then, they make sure the crops are properly packaged and stored.
Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers feed and care for animals. They fix barns, pens, and other farm buildings. They choose which animals to breed and sell.
Horticulture farmers grow flowers, shrubs, and grass called sod. They also grow fruits and vegetables in greenhouses.
Aquaculture farmers raise fish and shellfish. They take care of ponds and floating net pens. They stock, feed and care for fish.
A farmer's work can be very hard. Hours are long, often sunrise to sunset. During planting and harvesting seasons, crop farmers rarely have days off. The rest of the year, they sell their crops, fix machinery, and plan for the next year.
On livestock farms and ranches, work goes on all year. Animals, unless they are grazing, must be fed and watered every day. Dairy cows must be milked every day. Farmers also must keep their herds healthy.
Many farmers like their jobs. They like working outdoors and making a living off the land. Also, most farmers work for themselves and like the independence of being their own boss.
But farm work can be dangerous. Farm machinery can cause serious injury, so farmers must be careful.
How do you get ready?
Many people learn farming from growing up on a family farm. Young people also learn in farming clubs like Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H.
But modern farmers make complex scientific and business decisions, so even people who grew up on farms often need more education.
Students who want to be farmers should take classes in math, biology, and other life sciences.
More farmers are getting college degrees. Some farms offer apprentice programs.
Farmers must know enough about crops, growing conditions, and plant diseases to make good decisions. A basic knowledge of veterinary science and animal care is important for livestock and dairy farmers. Farmers also need to be good at using tools and fixing things.
Farmers need business skills, too. They need to know accounting and bookkeeping. Being able to manage people and resolve conflict is also important.
Some people start doing basic farm work before they try to run a farm.
How many jobs are there?
There were about 1.2 million farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers in 2008. About 80 percent were self-employed. Most grew crops.
Local conditions determine where farmers and ranchers work. If you want to produce milk, you'll be most likely to find a job in California, Wisconsin, New York, or Pennsylvania. Eggs?
Head to Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or California. Cotton?
Try Texas, California, Mississippi, Georgia, or Arizona. Wheat?
Kansas, North Dakota, Washington, or Montana.What about the future?
Low prices for agricultural goods will cause some farms to go out of business. Small farms are being combined into bigger farms. The number of farmers and ranchers who own their own farms is expected to decline moderately through 2018. The number of agricultural workers who work for other people will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations.
Jobs are declining because each farmer can produce more. They use machines and technology. But there will still be some jobs because many of today's farmers and ranchers will retire or leave their jobs. Organic farms, farmers' markets, and fish farms are finding more customers. People are also buying more flowers.
How much does this job pay?
Incomes of farmers and ranchers vary from year to year. A farm may show a profit one year and a loss the next. Farmers often get government payments to supplement their incomes and reduce the risk of farming. Many farmers also make money in other jobs.
Some farmers run farms for other people and get a salary. In May 2008, the average yearly wages of these farm managers were $62,400.
Are there other jobs like this?
Agricultural and food scientists
Fishers and fishing vessel operators
Purchasing agents and buyers of farm products