When you think about careers in agriculture, you might be picturing a wonderfully relaxing existence that involves driving a tractor around a field at the crack of dawn, feeding some ducks in your paddock and permanently having a sprig of grass protruding from the side of your mouth. However, it may shock you to know that the agricultural world has so much more to offer than this.
In fact, agricultural work can be highly-intensive and stressful at times. The world relies on its farms in order to survive. Agriculture is hugely important and is incredibly big business. Moreover, there are so many different career options for you to pursue outside of the traditional roles, which involve carrying out hands-on farm work.
What can I do in agriculture?
For millennia, agriculture has been at the heart of civilisation. It provides the world with food, fibres and all kinds of other products, which are vital to our existence. It is arguably the most important industry in the world. Without farmers and the people that work in other agricultural professions, we wouldn’t eat, we wouldn’t wear clothes and we wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of other agricultural by-products, such as biomass fuel.
Despite devastating setbacks, like the foot and mouth crisis, BSE (a.k.a. mad cow disease) and bird flu epidemics, the agricultural industry has stayed on its feet: resilient, defiant and courageous. Furthermore, with new initiatives, such as the ‘Buy British’ campaign, the agricultural industry in the UK is beginning to undergo a period of resurgence. There are lots of career opportunities and the agricultural industry is desperate to attract more skilled workers who can meet the demands of the work that needs to be done.
If you pursue a career in this area, you will most likely be focusing your efforts on arable (crops) or pastoral (livestock) farming. Whatever area of agriculture you choose to work in though, you will get the opportunity to work in the great outdoors.
Like any other industry, agriculture is constantly moving with the times. The agricultural landscape is now highly-mechanised and agricultural process and practices are constantly evolving in terms of technology. Consequently, the industry is now reliant on the hard work of agricultural scientists and agricultural engineers.
Moreover, the business side of farming demands commercially savvy people to work in roles that focus on the finance and strategy side of agriculture. These agribusiness professionals tend to work as agricultural consultants who provide business and financial guidance, and technical insights that improve agricultural efficiency.
What options do I have within agriculture?
Farm workers (a.k.a. farm hands) are the heart and soul of the agricultural industry. Your responsibilities are likely to differ from farm to farm and your daily tasks will really depend on what kind of farming you are involved in. For instance, someone working on a pig farm is going to be doing entirely different things to someone working on a rapeseed farm.
However, it’s safe to say that you will be spending a large amount of your time working outside or in barns and other outbuildings, engaging in manual labour including:
- Cleaning and general handiwork
- Looking after animals and tending to livestock
- Ploughing, planting and harvesting crops.
- Maintenance and repair work on vehicles, fences, gates, walls etc.
In order to be successful, farms need to be run properly. Decent management is vital for maximising yields and making the business a success. This is where the farm manager comes into the paddock and makes a real difference. These guys manage farm workers, look after the administrative side of running a farm, control budgets, devise strategies for harvesting or breeding, liaise with clients such as food suppliers and carry out their fair share of hands-on farming activities too. They also need to make sure that their farm complies with strict environmental laws and health and safety regulations.
The UK’s vast network of farms relies on the research, development and production of solutions which allow them to keep up with the times and improve their agricultural processes and procedures. This vital work is carried out by agricultural scientists and agricultural engineers.
Agricultural scientists work in laboratories and conduct research studies and experiments that allow production methods to be improved. They may also create pesticides and other chemicals that reduce the detrimental impact of pests on crops. Furthermore, agricultural research scientists may investigate animal diseases and create treatments, cures and solutions for veterinarians to use.
Agricultural engineers tend to focus more on the mechanical side of agriculture, designing, developing, installing and maintaining agricultural machinery and vehicles that improve the efficiency of farm work and food production. These guys work in laboratories, but also out in the field with their clients.
Agricultural consultants offer expert advice, guidance and support to farmers. They can offer guidance on the financial and business side of running a farm, or they can offer technical expertise which will help them to improve their land management, reduce their emissions and refine their operational processes. It’s all about improving efficiency and increasing profits for the farmers that employ their services. These guys tend to work for independent agricultural consultancies that work with a variety of different clients.
The agricultural industry is open to people from all kinds of academic backgrounds. People that work as agricultural scientists, engineers and consultants tend to have studied at universities or agricultural colleges and have obtained a relevant degree or HND.
However, you can get into entry-level farming positions via modern apprenticeships or with relevant vocational qualifications, such as agricultural NVQs, SVQs, HNCs or BTECs. Some people can even start working as farm workers straight out of school without any further academic qualifications.
Is the sputter of the tractor music to your ears? If so a career in this field might be the one for you…