Agricultural Workers

When choosing a career path in life you must have all the necessary information.  Knowing the requirements of a job is extremely important to understanding the responsibilities you will be required to fulfill. Here is some information from the United States Department of Labor Statistics on the job description for Agricultural Workers.

Duties vary widely—from raising plants and livestock to operating large farm equipment. The majority of agricultural workers learn their skills on the job in less than a month; animal breeders require more work experience or a college degree.

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Nature of Work

Agricultural workers play a large role in getting food, plants, and other agricultural products to market. Working mostly on farms or ranches, but also in nurseries and slaughterhouses, these workers have numerous and diverse duties. Among their activities are planting and harvesting crops, installing irrigation, and delivering animals. While most agricultural workers have relatively few technical skills, some have college degrees that train them to breed animals with specific traits.

Crop, nursery, and greenhouse farm workers and laborers perform numerous activities related to growing and harvesting grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fiber, trees, shrubs, and other crops. They plant and seed, prune, irrigate, harvest, and pack and load crops for shipment. Farm workers also apply pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to crops and 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. Their duties include planting, watering, pruning, weeding, and spraying 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 and containerized shrubs and trees.

Farm and ranch animal farm workers—the second largest specialty—care for live farm, ranch, or water animals that may include cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, poultry, finfish, shellfish, and bees. The animals are usually raised to supply meat, fur, skins, feathers, eggs, milk, or honey. Duties may include feeding, watering, herding, grazing, castrating, branding, de-beaking, weighing, catching, and loading animals; they also maintain records on animals, examine animals to detect diseases and injuries, assist in delivering animals at their birth, and administer medications, vaccinations, or insecticides. Many workers clean and maintain animal housing areas every day. On dairy farms, farm workers operate milking machines.

Other agricultural workers known as agricultural equipment operators use a variety of farm equipment to plow, sow seeds, and maintain and harvest crops. Equipment may include tractors, fertilizer spreaders, hay bines, raking equipment, balers, combines, threshers, and trucks. These workers also operate machines, such as conveyor belts, loading machines, separators, cleaners, and dryers, used in moving and treating crops after their harvest. As part of the job, workers may make adjustments and minor repairs to equipment.

Animal breeders select and breed animals using their knowledge of genetics and animal science to produce offspring with desired traits and characteristics, such as 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. Larger and more expensive animals, such as horses and cattle, are usually bred through artificial insemination, a specialized technique which requires taking semen from the male and then inseminating the female. This process ensures better results than conventional mating and also enables one prized male to sire many more offspring. To know which animals to breed and when, animal breeders keep detailed records, including the health of the animals, their size and weight, and the amount and quality of the product produced by them. They also keep track of the traits of the offspring. Some animal breeders work as consultants for a number of farmers, but others breed and raise their own animals for sale or future breeding. For those who raise animals, tasks might include fixing and cleaning animal shelters, feeding and watering the animals, and overseeing animals' health. Some breeders supervise others who perform these tasks. Animal breeders also read journals and newsletters to learn the latest information on breeding and veterinary practices.

A nursery worker waters flowers in a greenhouse.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

The majority of agricultural workers learn their skills on the job in less than a month; animal breeders require more work experience or a college degree.

Education and Training

Most farm workers learn their jobs quickly as they work; many do not have a high school diploma. People without a high school diploma are particularly common in the crop production sector, which is more labor-intensive and employs numerous migrant farm workers. Other agricultural workers may require a month to a year of training on the job, depending on their responsibilities.

Other Qualifications

Experience working on a farm or around animals is helpful but not necessary to qualify for many jobs. For those who operate equipment on the road or drive a truck as part their job, a driver's license or commercial driver's license is required.                            

Nursery workers who deal directly with customers must be friendly and tactful. Employers also look for responsible, self-motivated individuals because nursery workers sometimes work with little supervision.

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Agricultural workers held about 821,700 jobs in 2008. About one third was employed in animal production; some found employment in support activities for agriculture and forestry.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico employ approximately one quarter of all crop workers; California, Florida, and Oregon employ the most nursery workers.


Farm workers who work hard, have good communication skills, and take an interest in the business may advance to crew leader or other supervisory positions. The ability to speak both English and Spanish is quite helpful in supervisory work as well.

Some agricultural workers aspire to become farm, ranch, or other agricultural managers, or own farms or ranches themselves. (Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers are discussed elsewhere in the Handbook.) In addition, their knowledge of raising and harvesting produce may provide an excellent background for becoming purchasing agents and buyers of farm products. Knowledge of working a farm as a business can also help agricultural workers become farm and home management advisors. Those who earn a college degree in agricultural science could become agricultural and food scientists.

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Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Copyright Information: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a Federal government agency and everything that we publish, both in hard copy and electronically, is in the public domain, except for previously copyrighted photographs and illustrations. You are free to use our public domain material without specific permission, although we do ask that you cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the source." 

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