Agricultural Workers

Summary

agricultural workers image
Agricultural workers do tasks related to growing and harvesting grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other crops.
Quick Facts: Agricultural Workers
2012 Median Pay $18,910 per year
$9.09 per hour
Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 749,400
Job Outlook, 2012-22 -3% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2012-22 -25,000

What Agricultural Workers Do

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.

Work Environment

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

How to Become an Agricultural Worker

Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training.

Pay

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $18,910 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, agricultural workers should have good job prospects overall.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of agricultural workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about agricultural workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Agricultural Workers Do About this section

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers operate farm machinery.

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

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
  • 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 illness or injury
  • Use brands, tags, or tattoos to mark livestock 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 do numerous tasks related to growing and harvesting grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other crops. They plant and seed, prune, irrigate, harvest, and pack and load crops 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, or shellfish. These animals are usually 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, and the amount and quality of the product they produce. Animal breeders also track the traits of animals’ offspring.

Some animal breeders work as consultants for farmers, but others breed and raise their own animals for sale or future breeding. Breeders fix and clean animals’ shelters, feed and water animals, and oversee animals' health.

Work Environment About this section

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers may work in greenhouses tending plants.

Agricultural workers held about 749,400 jobs in 2012.

They usually work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Animal breeders may travel from farm to farm to 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.                                   

Injuries and Illnesses

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

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. Most agricultural workers are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico.

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. In 2012, nearly 1 in 3 worked part time.

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. Many do not need a high school diploma before they begin working, but animal breeders typically need a high school diploma and prior work experience.

Education and Training

Most agricultural workers do not need a high school diploma. They usually receive short-term on-the-job training.

Most animal breeders have a high school diploma, and typically have several years of experience in a related occupation.

Most agricultural workers receive some short-term on-the-job training. Employers instruct them on how to use simple farming tools, as well as more complex machinery. More experienced workers are also expected to perform routine maintenance on the tools they use.

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.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Animal breeders typically have prior work experience before they begin interacting with livestock. Ranch workers may transition into animal breeding after they become more familiar with animals and learn how to handle them.

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 a purchasing agent or buyer 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 2012

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Agricultural workers

$18,910

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

$19,370

 

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $18,910 in May 2012. 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 $17,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $29,820.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers in 2012 were the following:

  • $34,250 for animal breeders
  • $25,860 for agricultural equipment operators
  • $25,140 for agricultural workers, all other
  • $22,060 for farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals
  • $18,670 for farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

Many agricultural workers have seasonal work schedules. Seasonal workers typically work longer hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Agricultural Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Agricultural workers

-3%

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

-3%

 

Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, agricultural workers should have good job prospects overall.

Despite increasing international demand for food and meat, fewer agricultural workers may be needed as agricultural and livestock establishments continue to consolidate.

Technological advancements in farm equipment raises output per farm worker, which could also affect employment for agricultural workers. On the other hand, nursery and greenhouse workers might experience some job growth, if the demand for landscaping plants continues.                                   

Job Prospects

Job prospects for agricultural workers should be strong as workers frequently leave the occupation due to the intense, physical nature of the work. This is especially true for agricultural equipment operators and crop, greenhouse, and nursery farmworkers. Those who work with animals tend to have a more settled lifestyle because the work does not require them to follow crops for harvest. Prospects will be best for those who can speak English and Spanish.

Employment projections data for agricultural workers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Agricultural workers

749,400 724,400 -3 -25,000

Animal breeders

45-2021 1,300 1,000 -23 -300 [XLS]

Agricultural equipment operators

45-2091 59,000 61,200 4 2,300 [XLS]

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

45-2092 596,800 567,600 -5 -29,200 [XLS]

Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals

45-2093 77,900 79,600 2 1,700 [XLS]

Agricultural workers, all other

45-2099 14,400 14,900 3 500 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food science technicians

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products.

Associate’s degree $34,070
Animal care and service workers

Animal Care and Service Workers

Animal care and service workers provide care for animals. They feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work.

See How to Become One $19,970
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $69,300
Forest and conservation workers

Forest and Conservation Workers

Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests. Under the supervision of foresters and forest and conservation technicians, they develop, maintain, and protect forests.

High school diploma or equivalent $24,340
Grounds maintenance workers

Grounds Maintenance Workers

Grounds maintenance workers provide a pleasant outdoor environment by ensuring that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy.

See How to Become One $23,970

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about agricultural workers, visit

The National Agricultural Workers Survey, U.S. Department of Labor

For more information about agriculture policy and farm advocacy, visit

Center for Rural Affairs

For more information about the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, visit

National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture

For more general information about farming in the United States, visit

Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Association for Farmworker Opportunity Programs

O*NET

Agricultural Workers, All Other

Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse

Nursery Workers

Animal Breeders

Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals

Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop

Agricultural Equipment Operators

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Agricultural Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/farming-fishing-and-forestry/agricultural-workers.htm (visited November 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014