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What Agricultural Workers Do About this section

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers operate farm machinery.

Agricultural workers maintain crops and tend to 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:

  • Harvest and inspect crops by hand
  • Irrigate farm soil and maintain ditches or pipes and pumps
  • Operate and service farm machinery and tools
  • Spray fertilizer or pesticide solutions to control insects, fungi, and weeds
  • Move shrubs, plants, and trees with wheelbarrows or tractors
  • Feed livestock and clean and disinfect their pens, cages, yards, and hutches
  • 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 in order to identify 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 maintain and harvest crops. They may use tractors, fertilizer spreaders, balers, combines, threshers, and trucks. These workers also operate machines such as conveyor belts, loading machines, separators, cleaners, and dryers. Workers may make adjustments and minor repairs to equipment.

Animal breeders use their knowledge of genetics and animal science to select and breed animals that will 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 animals’ health, size, and weight, as well as the amount and quality of the product they produce. Animal breeders also track the traits of animals’ offspring.

Some animal breeders may 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 pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers 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, fur, skins, feathers, eggs, milk, or honey.

These 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 902,900 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up agricultural workers was distributed as follows:

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 566,500
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 245,400
Agricultural equipment operators 70,300
Agricultural workers, all other 12,300
Animal breeders 8,400

The largest employers of agricultural workers were as follows:

Crop production 55%
Animal production and aquaculture 27
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 6
Wholesale trade 4

Agricultural workers usually perform their duties outdoors in all kinds of weather.

Agricultural workers’ jobs can 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 can be dangerous. Although agricultural workers risk exposure to pesticides sprayed on crops or plants, improper exposure can be controlled if workers follow appropriate safety procedures. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injuries, so workers must be constantly alert. Additionally, agricultural workers who work directly with animals risk being bitten or kicked.

Work Schedules

Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal workers typically work longer periods during planting or harvesting times 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.

How to Become an Agricultural Worker About this section

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

Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training. A high school diploma is not needed for most jobs as an agricultural worker; however, a high school diploma typically is needed for animal breeders.

Education and Training

Most agricultural workers do not need a high school diploma; however, a high school diploma typically is needed for animal breeders. Some jobs as an animal breeder may require obtaining postsecondary education.

Many agricultural workers receive short-term on-the-job training lasting up to a month. Employers instruct them on how to use simple farming tools and more complex machinery while following appropriate safety procedures. Agricultural equipment operators, however, 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.

Important Qualities

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

Listening skills. Agricultural workers need to work well with others. Because they take instructions from farmers and other agricultural managers, effective listening is critical.

Physical stamina. Agricultural workers need to be able to perform laborious tasks repeatedly.

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

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

Other Experience

Animal breeders sometimes need previous 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 previous 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 2019

Total, all occupations

$39,810

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

$27,180

Agricultural workers

$25,840

 

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $25,840 in May 2019. 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 $22,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $38,990.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers in May 2019 were as follows:

Animal breeders $42,920
Agricultural equipment operators 31,950
Agricultural workers, all other 29,590
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 27,830
Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 25,440

In May 2019, the median annual wages for agricultural workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $28,070

Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal workers typically work longer hours during planting or harvesting times 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 2019-29

Total, all occupations

4%

Agricultural workers

1%

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

0%

 

Overall employment of agricultural workers is projected to grow 1 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite increased demand for crops and other agricultural products, employment growth is expected to be tempered as agricultural establishments continue to use technologies that increase output per farmworker.

Employment of agricultural equipment operators is projected to increase 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations, and faster than any other type of agricultural worker. Increased use of mechanization on farms is expected to lead to more jobs for agricultural equipment operators relative to farmworkers and laborers.

Smaller farms that sell their products directly to consumers through venues such as farmer’s markets might create some new opportunities for agricultural workers. These direct-to-consumer farms have grown in popularity, and farmers at these operations may hire agricultural workers as an alternative to expensive machinery.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for agricultural workers—especially farmworkers and laborers and agricultural equipment operators—should be very good because workers frequently leave the occupation due to the intense physical nature of the work.

Prospects are expected to be best for those who can speak both English and Spanish.

Employment projections data for agricultural workers, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Agricultural workers

902,900 912,100 1 9,200

Animal breeders

45-2021 8,400 8,100 -3 -300 Get data

Agricultural equipment operators

45-2091 70,300 78,300 11 8,000 Get data

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

45-2092 566,500 587,900 4 21,400 Get data

Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals

45-2093 245,400 225,100 -8 -20,300 Get data

Agricultural workers, all other

45-2099 12,300 12,700 3 400 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

Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse

Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals

Nursery Workers

Video