Bureau of Labor Statistics

From seed to sale: Careers in the produce supply chain

| October 2020

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We’re used to seeing grocery and restaurant employees working to offer fresh fruits and vegetables. But we rarely see the many workers whose jobs supply that produce.

Thousands of workers contribute to growing, transporting, and selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Their occupations include agricultural equipment operators preparing fields for planting, truck drivers delivering food to vendors, and stockers readying produce for display in the market. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects numerous openings in these produce supply-chain occupations each year from 2019 to 2029.

Keep reading for data on employment, job outlook, and wages in these occupations, along with information about the education, training, and work experience typically required for entry.  

From the farm...

Before planting any crop, certain workers need to prepare the farmland. Agricultural equipment operators use tractors, cultivators, and other farm machinery to till the soil and set the rows for planting. Mechanics and technicians maintain and repair the equipment.

Farmworkers and laborers do a variety of tasks that include planting, fertilizing, irrigating, and harvesting. After harvesting crops, farmworkers and laborers immediately pack and load them for transporting to a cooling and processing facility. There, graders sort and classify the unprocessed fruits or vegetables, and inspectors ensure that the produce is handled in a way that complies with federal safety and health standards.

Other workers help farm operations run smoothly. For example, farm labor contractors may hire additional workers to assist with planting, growing, or picking crops. First-line supervisors direct and coordinate the daily activities of agricultural workers. And farmers and agricultural managers organize crop production in the fields they oversee.

Table 1 shows data for these farm-related occupations across all industries. Employment varied in 2019, from nearly 1 million farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers to fewer than 1,000 farm labor contractors.

Table 1.

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Table 1. Selected farm-related occupations in supplying produce

Employment and wages, 2019; annual average openings, projected 2019–29; education and experience typically required for entry; and on-the-job training typically required for competency

Occupation title

Employment, 2019

Openings, projected 2019–29 annual average

Median annual wage, 2019[1]

Education typically required for entry

Work experience in a related occupation

On-the-job training typically required to attain competency

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

952,300 80,900 $71,160 High school diploma or equivalent 5 years or more None

Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse

566,500 85,800 25,440 No formal educational credential None Short-term on-the-job training

Agricultural equipment operators

70,300 11,600 31,950 No formal educational credential None Moderate-term on-the-job training

First-line supervisors of farming, fishing, and forestry workers

53,200 6,900 48,280 High school diploma or equivalent Less than 5 years None

Farm equipment mechanics and service technicians

40,800 3,700 42,200 High school diploma or equivalent None Long-term on-the-job training

Graders and sorters, agricultural products

38,300 5,000 25,670 No formal educational credential None Short-term on-the-job training

Agricultural inspectors

15,200 2,200 45,490 Bachelor's degree None Moderate-term on-the-job training

Farm labor contractors

800 100 61,910 No formal educational credential Less than 5 years Short-term on-the-job training

[1] Wage data exclude self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As table 1 shows, large occupations are projected to have more openings each year, on average, from 2019 to 2029. That’s because openings in these occupations are projected to result from workers who leave permanently and need to be replaced, even if few openings arise from new jobs.

The education and training typically required to enter the occupation also varies. Of the occupations listed in table 1, typical entry-level education requirements range from no formal education to a bachelor’s degree.

Five of the occupations in table 1 had a median annual wage higher than $39,810, the median annual wage for all occupations in 2019. And three of those occupations usually require work experience in a related occupation. On-the-job training typically required ranges from none for managerial and supervisory occupations to more than 12 months for mechanics and technicians.

...To the market

While farmworkers perform their duties, sales managers of farming companies contact buyers and purchasing agents. Farming sales managers may also sell their produce to wholesale businesses, whose sales representatives sell it to other customers. These buyers work for grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses to purchase the fruits and vegetables they need for reselling to consumers.

Order fillers retrieve those customer orders and prepare them to be sent out. Shipping, receiving, and inventory clerks keep track of those purchases and record the incoming and outgoing shipments of produce.

Throughout the process of distributing and transporting these shipments, hand laborers and material movers manually transfer the produce to and from storage areas, loading docks, and delivery trucks. Delivery truck drivers and long-haul drivers transport the shipments to multiple locations before ultimately arriving at nearby stores or businesses. There, stockers record the number of fruits or vegetables received and inspect their condition so they can then be displayed for sale in the store.

Table 2 shows some of the occupations related to bringing fresh produce to markets. Half of the occupations had employment of more than 1 million across all industries in 2019. And in most of the occupations in table 2, projected annual average openings over the 2019–29 decade will result from a combination of new jobs and departing workers.   

Table 2.

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Table 2. Selected market-related occupations in supplying produce

Employment and wages, 2019; annual average openings, projected 2019–29; education typically required for entry; and on-the-job training typically required for competency

Occupation

Employment, 2019

Openings, projected 2019–29 annual average

Median annual wage, 2019[1]

Education typically required for entry[2]

On-the-job training typically required to attain competency

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

2,986,000 380,600 $29,510 No formal educational credential Short-term on-the-job training

Stockers and order fillers

2,135,800 254,900 27,380 High school diploma or equivalent Short-term on-the-job training

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

2,029,900 209,200 45,260 Postsecondary nondegree award Short-term on-the-job training

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

1,399,700 127,500 59,930 High school diploma or equivalent Moderate-term on-the-job training

Light truck or delivery services drivers

1,018,600 111,800 34,730 High school diploma or equivalent Short-term on-the-job training

Shipping, receiving, and inventory clerks

710,400 54,300 34,190 High school diploma or equivalent Short-term on-the-job training

Driver/sales worker

487,400 51,300 25,860 High school diploma or equivalent Short-term on-the-job training

Buyers and purchasing agents

449,300 36,000 64,380 Bachelor's degree Moderate-term on-the-job training

Sales managers

433,800 35,300 126,640 Bachelor's degree None

[1] Wage data exclude self-employed workers.

[2] In addition to education, sales managers typically need less than 5 years of work experience in a related occupation. All other occupations typically do not require experience to enter the occupation.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Most of these occupations typically require at least a high school diploma or equivalent to enter the occupation. Four had median annual wages higher than the $39,810 median for all workers—and 3 of those 4 typically require postsecondary education.

Sales managers, the highest paying occupation in table 2, is the only occupation in the table that does not also typically require on-the-job training. However, it does typically require work experience in a related occupation, in addition to a college degree.

For more information

This article covers some of the many occupations involved in producing and supplying fresh fruits and vegetables. Additional occupations—such as agricultural engineers, agricultural and food scientists, and agricultural and food science technicians—focus on food production in different ways.

Learn about these and hundreds of other occupations in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). For each occupation, OOH profiles describe what workers do, what their job outlook is, how much they earn, and more.

About the Author

Steven Marcroft is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. He can be reached at marcroft.steven@bls.gov .

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Suggested citation:

Steven Marcroft, "From seed to sale: Careers in the produce supply chain," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2020.

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