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Farmers, Ranchers, and Agricultural Managers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Because of rapid changes in the industry, farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers need to stay informed about continuing advances in agricultural methods, both in the United States and abroad. They need to monitor changes in governmental regulations that may affect production methods or markets for particular crops. Agricultural managers can enhance their professional status through voluntary certification as an Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Accreditation requires several years of farm management experience, the appropriate academic background—a bachelor's degree or, preferably, a master's degree in a field of agricultural science—and passing courses and examinations related to the business, financial, and legal aspects of farm and ranch management.

Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers held more than 1.2 million jobs in 2008. Nearly 80 percent were self-employed farmers and ranchers, and the remainder were wage and salary agricultural managers. Most farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers oversee crop production activities, while others manage livestock and dairy production.

The soil, topography of the land, and climate often determine the type of farming and ranching done in a particular area. California, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are the leading agricultural States in terms of agricultural output measured in dollars. Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kentucky are the leading agricultural States in terms of numbers of farms.

Job Outlook
Overall employment is projected to decline, reflecting the decline of self-employed farmers because of the consolidation of farms and increasing productivity; however, employment of salaried agricultural managers is expected to increase.

Job Growth
Employment of self-employed farmers is expected to decline moderately by 8 percent over the 2008–18 decade. The continuing ability of the agriculture sector to produce more with fewer workers will cause some farmers to go out of business as market pressures leave little room for the marginally successful farmer. As land, machinery, seed, and chemicals become more expensive, only well-capitalized farmers and corporations will be able to buy many of the farms that become available. These larger, more productive farms are better able to withstand the adverse effects of climate and price fluctuations on farm output and income. Larger farms also have advantages in obtaining government subsidies and payments because these payments are usually based on acreage owned and per-unit production.

In contrast, agricultural managers are projected to gain jobs, growing by about 6 percent, slower than the average for all occupations. Owners of large tracts of land, who often do not live on the property they own, increasingly will seek the expertise of agricultural managers to run their farms and ranches in a business-like manner.

Despite the expected continued consolidation of farmland and the projected decline in overall employment of this occupation, an increasing number of small-scale farmers have developed successful market niches that involve personalized, direct contact with their customers. Many are finding opportunities in horticulture and organic food production, which are among the fastest growing segments of agriculture. Others use farmers' markets that cater directly to urban and suburban consumers, allowing the farmers to capture a greater share of consumers' food dollars. Some small-scale farmers belong to collectively owned marketing cooperatives that process and sell their product. Other farmers participate in community-supported agriculture cooperatives that allow consumers to buy a share of the farmer's harvest directly.

Fewer jobs are expected for farmers and ranchers than in the past; better prospects are expected for wage and salary agricultural managers. Small-scale, local farming, particularly horticulture and organic farming, offer the best opportunities for entering the occupation. With fewer people wanting to become farmers and a large number of farmers expected to retire or give up their farms in the next decade, there will be some opportunities to own or lease a farm. Additionally, the market for agricultural products is projected to be good for most products over the next decade, so many farmers who retire will need to be replaced. Farmers who grow crops used in landscaping, such as trees, shrubs, turf, and other ornamentals, also will have better job prospects, as people put more money into landscaping their homes and businesses.

Some private organizations are helping to make farmland available and affordable for new farmers through a variety of institutional innovations. Land Link programs, coordinated by the International Farm Transition Network, operate in 20 States. They help match up young farmers with farmers approaching retirement so that arrangements can be made to pass along their land to young farmers wishing to keep the land under cultivation. Often beginning farmers lease some or all of their farmland. Sometimes, a new farmer will work on a farm for a few years, while the farm owner gradually transfers ownership to the new farmer.

Incomes of farmers and ranchers vary greatly from year to year, because prices of farm products fluctuate with weather conditions and other factors that influence the quantity and quality of farm output and the demand for those products. In addition to farm business income, farmers often receive government subsidies or other payments that supplement their incomes and reduce some of the risk of farming. Many farmers—primarily operators of small farms—have recently been relying more and more on off-farm sources of income.

Full-time, salaried agricultural managers had median weekly earnings of $775 in 2008. The middle half earned between $570 and $1,269 per week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $358, and the highest paid 10 percent earned more than $1,735 per week.

Self-employed farmers must procure their own health and life insurance. As members of farm organizations, they may receive group discounts on health and life insurance premiums.

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