Agricultural Workers

Summary

agricultural workers image
Agricultural workers maintain the quality of farms, crops, and livestock.
Quick Facts: Agricultural Workers
2014 Median Pay $19,330 per year
$9.30 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 761,700
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -6% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -47,500

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. 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $19,330 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 6 percent from 2014 to 2024. However, agricultural workers should have good job prospects overall. Still, despite international demand for crops and other agricultural products, fewer workers may be needed as agricultural establishments continue to consolidate.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for agricultural workers.

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

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 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

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers may work in greenhouses tending plants.

Agricultural workers held about 761,700 jobs in 2014.

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.

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

Agricultural workers
Agricultural workers typically receive on-the-job training once they are hired.

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 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

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

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.

Pay

Agricultural Workers

Median annual wages, May 2014

Total, all occupations

$35,540

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

$20,250

Agricultural workers

$19,330

 

The median annual wage for agricultural workers was $19,330 in May 2014. 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 $17,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31,040.

Median annual wages for agricultural workers in May 2014 were as follows:

Animal breeders $40,000
Agricultural workers, all other 27,380
Agricultural equipment operators 26,910
Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals 22,930
Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse 19,060

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

Agricultural Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Agricultural workers

-6%

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

-6%

 

Employment of agricultural workers is projected to decline 6 percent from 2014 to 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.

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 SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Agricultural workers

761,700 714,200 -6 -47,500

Animal breeders

45-2021 7,000 6,900 -2 -100 [XLSX]

Agricultural equipment operators

45-2091 57,800 60,900 5 3,100 [XLSX]

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

45-2092 470,200 427,300 -9 -42,900 [XLSX]

Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals

45-2093 216,100 209,100 -3 -7,000 [XLSX]

Agricultural workers, all other

45-2099 10,600 10,000 -6 -600 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
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 $35,140
Animal care and service workers

Animal Care and Service Workers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $20,610
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

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 $68,050
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 $27,160
Grounds maintenance workers

Grounds Maintenance Workers

Grounds maintenance workers ensure that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy in order to provide a pleasant outdoor environment.

See How to Become One $24,810

Contacts for More Information

For more information about agricultural workers, visit

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

For more information about agriculture policy and farm advocacy, visit

Center for Rural Affairs

For more information about federal programs, such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, visit

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

New Farmers, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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

Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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, 2016-17 Edition, Agricultural Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/farming-fishing-and-forestry/agricultural-workers.htm (visited February 09, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015