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What Agricultural Workers Do About this section

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers operate farm machinery.

Agricultural workers maintain crops and tend livestock. They perform physical labor and operate machinery under the supervision of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Duties

Agricultural workers typically do the following:

  • Plant, inspect, and harvest crops
  • Irrigate farm soil and maintain ditches or pipes and pumps
  • Operate and service farm machinery and tools
  • Apply fertilizer or pesticide solutions to control insects, fungi, and weeds
  • Move plants, shrubs, and trees with wheelbarrows or tractors
  • Feed livestock and clean and disinfect their cages, pens, and yards
  • Examine animals to detect symptoms of illnesses or injuries and administer vaccines to protect animals from diseases
  • Use brands, tags, or tattoos to mark livestock ownership and grade
  • Herd livestock to pastures for grazing or to scales, trucks, or other enclosures

The following are examples of types of agricultural workers:

Agricultural equipment operators use a variety of farm equipment to plow and sow seeds, as well as to maintain and harvest crops. They may use machines such as tractors, balers, conveyor belts, fertilizer spreaders, and threshers. Workers also may adjust and make minor repairs to the machines and equipment.

Animal breeders select animals that will mate and produce offspring with desired traits and characteristics. For example, they breed chickens that lay more eggs, pigs that produce leaner meat, and sheep with more desirable wool. Others breed and raise cats, dogs, and other household pets.

To know which animals to breed and when to breed them, animal breeders keep detailed records. Breeders note an animal’s health, size, and weight, as well as the amount and quality of its product or byproduct. Animal breeders also track the traits of animals’ offspring.

Some animal breeders consult with farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers about their livestock.

Crop, nursery, and greenhouse farmworkers and laborers perform numerous tasks related to growing and harvesting grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other crops. They plant, seed, prune, irrigate, and harvest crops, and pack and load them for shipment.

Farmworkers also apply fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to crops. They repair fences and some farm equipment.

Nursery and greenhouse workers prepare land or greenhouse beds for growing horticultural products, such as trees, plants, flowers, and sod. They also plant, water, prune, weed, and spray the plants. They may cut, roll, and stack sod; stake trees; tie, wrap, and pack plants to fill orders; and dig up or move field-grown shrubs and trees.

Farm and ranch animal farmworkers care for live animals, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, poultry, finfish, shellfish, and bees. These animals usually are raised to supply meat, skins, feathers, eggs, milk, or honey.

Farmworkers may feed, herd, brand, weigh, and load animals. They also keep records on animals; examine animals to detect diseases and injuries; and administer medications, vaccinations, or insecticides.

Many workers clean and maintain animal housing areas every day. On dairy farms, animal farmworkers operate milking machines.

Work Environment About this section

Agricultural workers
Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules.

Agricultural workers held about 876,900 jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up agricultural workers was distributed as follows:

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 562,900
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 228,500
Agricultural equipment operators 66,600
Agricultural workers, all other 11,600
Animal breeders 7,300

The largest employers of agricultural workers were as follows:

Crop production 54%
Animal production and aquaculture 26
Wholesale trade 4
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 3

Agricultural workers usually do their tasks outdoors in all kinds of weather.

Agricultural workers’ jobs may be difficult. To harvest fruits and vegetables by hand, workers frequently bend and crouch. They also lift and carry crops and tools that may be heavy.

Injuries and Illnesses

Agricultural work may be dangerous. Although agricultural workers may be exposed to pesticides applied on crops or plants, the risk is minimized if workers follow safety procedures. Tractors and other farm machinery may cause serious injuries, so workers must stay alert. Additionally, agricultural workers who deal directly with animals risk being bitten, kicked, or stung.

Work Schedules

Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Because living crops and animals need constant care, workers’ schedules may vary to include early mornings, weekends, and holidays.

Many agricultural workers have seasonal schedules. Seasonal schedules typically include longer periods of work during planting or harvesting or when animals must be sheltered and fed.

Some agricultural workers, called migrant farmworkers, move from location to location as crops ripen. Their unsettled lifestyles and periods of unemployment between jobs may cause stress.

How to Become an Agricultural Worker About this section

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training once they are hired.

Most agricultural workers do not need a formal educational credential to enter these occupations; however, animal breeders typically need at least a high school diploma. Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training.

Education

Agricultural workers typically need no formal educational credential. However, animal breeders typically need a high school diploma, and some jobs require postsecondary education.

Training

Many agricultural workers receive short-term on-the-job training of up to 1 month. Employers instruct them on how to use simple farming tools and complex machinery while following safety procedures. Agricultural equipment operators may need more extensive training before being allowed to operate expensive farming equipment.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some agricultural workers, especially those who operate equipment, need a valid driver’s license. Agricultural workers who handle pesticides might need a pesticide applicator license. And in a few states, certain types of animal breeders must be licensed. Check with your state licensing boards for more information. 

Important Qualities

Dexterity. Agricultural workers need excellent hand-eye coordination to harvest crops and operate farm machinery.

Listening skills. Agricultural workers must listen carefully to ensure that they understand instructions from farmers and other agricultural managers and supervisors.

Mechanical skills. Agricultural workers must be able to operate complex farm machinery. They also occasionally do routine maintenance on the equipment.

Physical stamina. Agricultural workers must have physical endurance because they do laborious tasks repeatedly.

Physical strength. Agricultural workers must be strong enough to lift heavy objects, including tools and crops.

Other Experience

Animal breeders sometimes need work experience interacting with livestock. Ranch workers may transition into animal breeding after they become more familiar with animals and learn how to handle them.

Some agricultural equipment operators might need work experience on a farm or operating heavy equipment.

Advancement

Agricultural workers may advance to crew leader or other supervisory positions. The ability to speak both English and Spanish is helpful for agricultural supervisors.

Some agricultural workers aspire to become farmers, ranchers, or agricultural managers or to own their own farms and ranches. Knowledge of produce and livestock may provide an excellent background for becoming buyers or purchasing agents of farm products. Those who earn a college degree in agricultural science could become agricultural or food scientists.

Pay About this section

Agricultural Workers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

$29,860

Agricultural workers

$29,680

 

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $29,680 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,660.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers in May 2021 were as follows:

Animal breeders $40,090
Agricultural equipment operators 36,360
Agricultural workers, all other 32,550
Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 29,630
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 29,630

In May 2021, the median annual wages for agricultural workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $29,990

Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Because living plants and animals need constant care, workers’ schedules may vary to include early mornings, weekends, and holidays.

Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal schedules typically include longer periods of work during planting or harvesting or when animals must be sheltered and fed.

Some agricultural workers, called migrant farmworkers, move from location to location as crops ripen. Their unsettled lifestyles and periods of unemployment between jobs can cause stress.

Job Outlook About this section

Agricultural Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Total, all occupations

5%

Agricultural workers

1%

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

1%

 

Overall employment of agricultural workers is projected to show little or no change from 2021 to 2031.

Despite limited employment growth, about 141,800 openings for agricultural workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Projected employment of agricultural workers varies by occupation (see table). Despite increased demand for crops and other agricultural products, employment growth is expected to be limited as agricultural establishments continue to use technologies that increase farmworkers’ productivity.

Employment of agricultural equipment operators is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations and faster than any other type of agricultural worker from 2021 to 2031. Increased use of mechanization on farms is expected to lead to more jobs for agricultural equipment operators relative to farmworkers and laborers.

Small farms that sell their products directly to consumers through venues such as farmers’ markets might create opportunities for some agricultural workers.

Employment projections data for agricultural workers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Agricultural workers

876,900 883,700 1 6,900

Animal breeders

45-2021 7,300 7,600 4 300 Get data

Agricultural equipment operators

45-2091 66,600 74,700 12 8,000 Get data

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

45-2092 562,900 575,700 2 12,800 Get data

Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals

45-2093 228,500 213,600 -6 -14,800 Get data

Agricultural workers, all other

45-2099 11,600 12,100 5 600 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about agricultural workers, visit

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

For more information about careers in agriculture, visit

AgExplorer, National FFA Organization

New Farmers, U.S. Department of Agriculture

CareerOneStop

For career videos on agricultural workers, visit

Agricultural equipment operators

Animal breeders

Farmworkers, farm and ranch animals

O*NET

Agricultural Equipment Operators

Agricultural Workers, All Other

Animal Breeders

Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse

Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals

Video