Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

What is this job like?

Farmers grow crops and raise animals. American farmers run some of the most productive farms in the world. They 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 use new technology, and they 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. And most farmers work for themselves. They like that independence.

But farm work can be dangerous. Farm machinery can cause serious injury. 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 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. Later, they might work with an experienced farmer. Some farms offer apprentice programs.

Common programs of study in college include agronomy, dairy science, agricultural economics and business, horticulture, crop and fruit science, and animal science. For students interested in aquaculture, classes in fisheries biology, hatchery management and maintenance, and hydrology are helpful. 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. Classes in economics and marketing are useful. 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.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

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