What Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers Do
About this section
Some farmers work primarily with crops and vegetables, whereas other farmers and ranchers handle livestock.
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers operate establishments that produce crops, livestock, and dairy products.
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically do the following:
- Supervise all steps of the crop production and ranging process, including planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and herding
- Determine how to raise crops or livestock by evaluating factors such as market conditions, disease, soil conditions, and the availability of federal programs
- Select and purchase supplies, such as seed, fertilizers, and farm machinery
- Ensure that all farming equipment is properly maintained
- Adapt their duties to the seasons, weather conditions, or a crop’s growing cycle
- Maintain farm facilities, such as water pipes, hoses, fences, and animal shelters
- Serve as the sales agent for livestock, crops, and dairy products
- Record financial, tax, production, and employee information
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers monitor the constantly changing prices for their products. They use different strategies to protect themselves from unpredictable changes in the markets. For example, some farmers carefully plan the combination of crops that they grow, so if the price of one crop drops, they will have enough income from another crop to make up for the loss. Farmers and ranchers also track disease and weather conditions closely, because disease and bad weather may have a negative impact on crop yields or animal health. When farmers and ranchers plan ahead, they may be able to store their crops or keep their livestock in order to take advantage of higher prices later in the year.
Most farm output goes to food-processing companies. However, some farmers now choose to sell a portion of their goods directly to consumers through farmer’s markets or use cooperatives to reduce their financial risk and to gain a larger share of the final price of their goods. In community-supported agriculture (CSA), cooperatives sell shares of a harvest to consumers before the planting season in order to ensure a market for the farm’s produce.
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers also negotiate with banks and other credit lenders to get financing, because they must buy seed, livestock, and equipment before they have products to sell.
Farmers and ranchers own and operate mainly family-owned farms. They also may lease land from a landowner and operate it as a working farm.
The size of the farm or range determines which tasks farmers and ranchers handle. Those who operate small farms or ranges may do all tasks, including harvesting and inspecting the land, growing crops, and raising animals. In addition, they keep records, service machinery, and maintain buildings.
By contrast, farmers and ranchers who operate larger farms generally have employees—including agricultural workers—who help with physical work. Some employees of large farms are in nonfarm occupations, working as truck drivers, sales representatives, bookkeepers, or information technology specialists.
Farmers and ranchers track technological improvements in animal breeding and seeds, choosing new products that might increase output. Many livestock and dairy farmers monitor and attend to the health of their herds, which may include assisting in births.
Agricultural managers take care of the day-to-day operations of one or more farms, ranches, nurseries, timber tracts, greenhouses, and other agricultural establishments for corporations, farmers, and owners who do not live and work on their farm or ranch.
Agricultural managers usually do not participate in production activities themselves. Instead, they hire and supervise farm and livestock workers to do most daily production tasks.
Managers may determine budgets. They may decide how to store, transport, and sell crops. They may also oversee the proper maintenance of equipment and property.
The following are examples of types of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers:
Crop farmers and managers are responsible for all steps of plant growth, which include planting, fertilizing, watering, and harvesting crops. These farmers can grow grain, fruits, vegetables, and other crops. After a harvest, they make sure that the crops are properly packaged and stored.
Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers, ranchers, and managers feed and care for animals, such as cows or chickens, in order to harvest meat, milk, or eggs. They keep livestock and poultry in barns, pens, and other farm buildings. These workers may also oversee the breeding of animals in order to maintain the appropriate herd or flock size.
Nursery and greenhouse managers oversee the production of trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants (including turf) used for landscaping. In addition to applying pesticides and fertilizers to help plants grow, they are often responsible for keeping track of inventory and marketing activities.
Aquaculture farmers and managers raise fish and shellfish in ponds, floating net pens, raceways, and recirculating systems. They stock, feed, protect, and maintain aquatic life used for food and recreational fishing.