CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a farmer.
Is becoming a farmer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Training and Education
A high school diploma – ideally, with a concentration in laboratory sciences or advanced mathematics – is required to apply to an agriculture degree program.
The specific degree earned is determined by the kind of farming the student wishes to pursue. Many Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree programs offer several different majors, including the following:
Bachelor’s Degree programs
Bachelor’s Degree agriculture majors are typically divided between programs that focus on managing an agribusiness and those that emphasize soil, plant, or animal management. Among the degree specialization options are plants and soil technology, livestock management, animal husbandry, agribusiness, and agricultural engineering.
Associate’s Degree programs
Most agriculture majors at the Associate’s level provide some instruction in agriculture theory and business, but focus on practical soil, crops, and livestock management and the operation of farming machinery and equipment.
Graduates at this level commonly enter the workforce as greenhouse technicians, farm managers, or field workers. They may also opt to complete a Bachelor’s in Agriculture.
Online Degree programs
Online programs are usually very flexible. They generally require students to log in to a course management system to access class materials and submit assignments at their own pace and on their own schedule. Live and interactive components, however, require that students connect to the class at specific times. Some lessons, hands-on learning modules, and tests and exams may take place at local schools or campuses.
Certificate programs in agriculture may be ideal for individuals already working in the field and wishing to expand their knowledge in specific areas. Available courses of study generally include plant diseases, organic farming, nutritional science, food quality and safety, crop development, and soil fertility.
Students may seek assistance from school advisors or faculty in locating work experience or internship opportunities. For individuals without formal education, some farms offer apprenticeships. To work as an intern or apprentice and investigate government assistance options, contact The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Farmers or farm managers can seek the Accredited Farm Manager certification through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Applicants must successfully complete a four-part certification examination as well as a code of ethics test. A minimum of a Bachelor's Degree in the agricultural field and four years of farming experience are also required to obtain this credential.
Flexible continuing education programs and courses, comprised of both technical classroom and laboratory instruction, are designed for busy farmers and agricultural professionals.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (www.usfarmersandranchers.org) offers workshops, seminars, and other training opportunities.
How to become a Farmer
While many colleges and universities offer degree programs in agriculture, environmental science, and agricultural economics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in most cases, a high school diploma is sufficient to work in the profession. Contemporary farm owners, however, are more than farm laborers. They are entrepreneurs and can therefore benefit from formal education, which provides training in basic business operations, marketing, government regulations, labor practices, livestock management, and other pertinent subject matter.
Perhaps the best way to investigate the possibility of becoming a farmer is, quite simply, to talk to famers about their lives and experiences. Ask them what they love about their work and what they find most challenging about it. Farmers are usually very busy, but they are also usually very passionate about their work and happy to talk about it. Volunteer on a farm or pursue a farming apprenticeship, to learn under the guidance of an experienced farmer and determine if the lifestyle is desirable. For a nominal fee, organizations such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoofinternational.org) link organic farms with potential volunteers. Similar programs offer room and board as well as a small stipend in exchange for labor.