Agricultural Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Agricultural Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Agricultural workers maintain the quality of farms, crops, and livestock by operating machinery and doing physical labor under the supervision of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Duties of Agricultural Workers

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
  • 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
  • Administer vaccines to protect animals from diseases

The following are examples of types of agricultural workers:

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 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. Other animal breeders 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.

Work Environment for Agricultural Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Agricultural workers hold about 761,700 jobs.

They usually work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Animal breeders consult with farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers about their livestock.

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

Agricultural Worker Work Schedules

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.

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.

How to Become an Agricultural Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Agricultural Workers near you!

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.

Agricultural Worker 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 some postsecondary education.

Agricultural workers typically receive some short-term on-the-job training. Employers instruct them on how to use simple farming tools and more complex machinery while following appropriate safety procedures. More experienced workers also are expected to perform routine maintenance on the tools they use.

Important Qualities for Agricultural Workers

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.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

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.

Advancement for Agricultural Workers

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.

Agricultural Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for agricultural workers is $20,090. 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 $18,560, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33,170.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers are as follows:

Animal breeders $39,380
Agricultural workers, all other 29,830
Agricultural equipment operators 27,840
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 23,750
Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 19,770

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.

Job Outlook for Agricultural Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 6 percent through 2024. Agricultural workers should have good job prospects overall.

Despite international demand for crops and other agricultural products, fewer agricultural workers may be needed as these establishments continue to consolidate. In addition, technological advancements in farm equipment are raising output per farmworker, a factor that also could affect employment for agricultural workers.

Still, agricultural workers may find opportunities at smaller farms that sell their products directly to consumers through venues such as farmer’s markets. These direct-to-consumer farms have grown in popularity, and farmers may hire agricultural workers as an alternative to expensive machinery.

Agricultural Workers Job Prospects

Job prospects for agricultural workers—especially agricultural equipment operators and crop, greenhouse, and nursery farmworkers—should be strong because workers frequently leave the occupation due to the intense physical nature of the work.

Prospects will be best for those who can speak both English and Spanish.

Employment projections data for Agricultural Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Agricultural workers 761,700 714,200 -6 -47,500
  Animal breeders 7,000 6,900 -2 -100
  Agricultural equipment operators 57,800 60,900 5 3,100
  Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 470,200 427,300 -9 -42,900
  Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 216,100 209,100 -3 -7,000
  Agricultural workers, all other 10,600 10,000 -6 -600

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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