Agricultural Workers


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.

Agricultural workers held about 876,300 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up agricultural workers was distributed as follows:

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 532,300
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 256,100
Agricultural equipment operators 66,600
Agricultural workers, all other 12,400
Animal breeders 8,900

The largest employers of agricultural workers were as follows:

Crop production 54%
Animal production and aquaculture 29
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 5
Wholesale trade 4

Agricultural workers usually work 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.

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.

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $24,620 in May 2018.

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 $21,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $37,920.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers in May 2018 were as follows:

Animal breeders $37,060
Agricultural equipment operators 31,190
Agricultural workers, all other 29,480
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 26,560
Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 24,320

In May 2018, the median annual wages for agricultural workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $26,440

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.

Agricultural Workers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Total, all occupations

$38,640

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

$25,380

Agricultural workers

$24,620

 

Overall employment of agricultural workers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028.

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 10 percent, 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, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Agricultural workers

876,300 887,200 1 10,900

Animal breeders

45-2021 8,900 9,200 3 300 Get data

Agricultural equipment operators

45-2091 66,600 73,100 10 6,500 Get data

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

45-2092 532,300 542,700 2 10,400 Get data

Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals

45-2093 256,100 249,200 -3 -6,900 Get data

Agricultural workers, all other

45-2099 12,400 13,000 5 600 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of agricultural workers.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists.

Associate’s degree $40,860

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.

High school diploma or equivalent $67,950

Forest and Conservation Workers

Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests.

High school diploma or equivalent $27,460

Grounds Maintenance Workers

Grounds maintenance workers ensure that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy.

See How to Become One $29,400

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers handle routine animal care and help scientists, veterinarians, and others with their daily tasks.

High school diploma or equivalent $27,540

Animal Care and Service Workers

Animal care and service workers attend to animals.

High school diploma or equivalent $23,950

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


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Agricultural Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/farming-fishing-and-forestry/agricultural-workers.htm (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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