If you are interested in farming and would enjoy a hands-on, manual career working predominantly outside, then a career as an agricultural contractor could be of interest to you. To be considered for this role you would need good practical agricultural skills, knowledge and you’d need to be able to use farm machinery.
Your work would involve providing services to farmers, largely on a self-employed basis. The sort of things you would be required to do might include:
- Crop spraying
- Hedge cutting
- Application of fertiliser
- Seed processing
- Crop harvesting
- Fencing/drainage maintenance/earth moving
- Handling livestock
- Silage/hay/haylage cutting and baling
- Sheep shearing
You will need a full driving licence for this role and must have experience of using different types of farm machinery; tractors, forklift trucks, baling machines etc. Most self-employed contractors specialise in certain services and use their own equipment.
Job prospects for agricultural contractors are pretty good; obviously more so in very rural areas but the work can be seasonal depending upon your specialism, for example turkey plucking, sheep shearing or lambing. Roles in this industry include:
- Farm worker/manager
- Tractor driver
- General operative
- Combine driver
- Packer/packing house supervisor/manager
- Farm secretary
- Livestock handler
Your work is likely to be on a job-by-job basis and can involve travelling and working around the country, depending on what you do and where such work is available.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be an agricultural contractor you would need:
- Good, practical industry skills and knowledge
- Experience of using and maintaining different farm plant and machinery
- Knowledge of health and safety principles
- Problem solving skills and flexibility
- Time management skills
- The ability to work alone or as part of a team
- Effective communication skills
- Administration skills if you are self-employed
Working hours for agricultural contractors vary tremendously and are largely dependent on the services you offer and the season in which you are working. During busy times, you would be required to work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. You might also be required to work overnight on a rota basis.
Much of your work would be undertaken outdoors in all weathers and your working environment could be noisy, dirty or dangerous. Some of your work could be very demanding physically and you may be required to carry, lift and move heavy items including tools or sacks of animal feed and produce.
Most agricultural contractors are self-employed and you would charge a rate according to the task you were performing. Rates are regional and seasonal and vary greatly so you would need to carry out market research in order to be competitive, remembering to factor in things like the use of your own equipment and travel to and from jobs.
As an example, if you were contracted to carry out hedge trimming using your own tractor, you might charge around £30 an hour.
Formal qualifications for agricultural contractors are not required but there is always competition for work and it would be useful to attend courses in order to develop your skills and make your tenders more competitive when applying for contracts.
Relevant qualifications you could undertake include the following, although the list is not exhaustive and your local agricultural college will be able to offer you advice on what courses they run that might be of interest to you:
- Advanced Apprenticeship in Agriculture
- City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma or Extended Diploma in Agriculture (QCF)
- City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma in Work-based Agriculture (QCF)
Some tasks might involve operating chainsaws or using pesticides and you will need to have the relevant certificates of competence to comply with legislative requirements. Lantra Awards and the City & Guilds Land Based Services award such certificates.
Training and development
If you decide to specialise in a particular area, you could take an applicable short course run by the City & Guilds Land Based Services and Lantra Awards. You could further enhance your CV by joining a professional body, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) for example. This will keep you up to date with industry developments and news and may help you with networking to build your client base.
It would also be useful to subscribe to one or more of the weekly farming newspapers as these contain job vacancies, industry news and other useful reference such as Farmers Weekly Magazine and Farmers’ Guardian Weekly newspaper.