How to Become a Farmer (Duties, Steps and Salary)

Learn the steps to take to become a farmer in this handy guide.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Person wondering how to become a farmer professionally

Farming is one of the oldest professions out there and in becoming one, you are taking on one of the most difficult jobs available, one that is instrumental in the lives of almost every single person in the world. There is more than one type of farming, and this article will not only explain what these are, but also what the job is like, and how you can become one. Read on if you want to know more!

What farmers do

Farmers are chiefly tasked with ensuring the natural resources they might be farming (be it crops or animals) are looked after and the foodstuffs they produce are of the right quality and are able to be sold. The role will therefore require excellent knowledge of plants and animals and being attuned to the various conditions where they work to maximize the yield of their farm.

Cultivating crops or tending to animals can be a very intense task, even in small farming operations like a family farm. Farmers will therefore have to work with various types of machinery and equipment and be able to maintain this by themselves before a service center needs to get involved. Farmers also must balance these hands-on tasks with business acumen, selling their crops, produce, or animals for the right price at the right time.

Farming and ranching are on the front line of the agricultural industry, which is one of the largest and most complex industries in the country. No two farming jobs are the same, so the next section serves to outline the different types of farmers, as well as the general duties and responsibilities you will be expected to perform in the role.

Types of farmers

Although not exhaustive, here is a list of the main types of farmers.

  • Arable farmer: Arable farming is focusing on crops that are grown in warm weather with average rainfall, in flat locations suitable for machinery.
  • Commercial farmer: This is a kind of farming that operates exclusively on a large scale. Commercial farmers typically sell or distribute their produce to factories or other large food producers.
  • Dairy farmer: Dairy farmers rear cows and other milk-producing animals. They might also be involved in the production of other dairy products like cheese or butter.
  • Fish farmer: Fish farmers operate on natural or man-made ponds and lakes, rearing fish to sell for meat or oils. This type of farm typically requires a large amount of space.
  • Grain and forage crop farmer: These farmers grow grains such as wheat, cereal, flax, and so on, which typically form a large part of a population’s source of food.
  • Mixed farmer: Mixed farmers cultivate both arable and pastoral land and will therefore have a wide variety of products to sell.
  • Organic farmers: Organic farmers can specialize in any of these types of farming, but ensure their produce is organic, i.e., free from chemicals or artificial fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Pastoral farmer: Pastoral farming is the opposite of arable and involves the rearing of animals in locations that are rougher or hillier, or have worse weather than arable land, thus making it unsuitable for crops.
  • Poultry farmer: Poultry farmers rear chickens and turkey for meat and eggs. These farms can be small and free-range, or much larger — almost factory-like — in their nature.
  • Rancher: Ranching is a type of farming focused on rearing larger animals, such as cattle, on expansive tracts of land where they can roam free.

Duties and responsibilities

Here is a list of the top responsibilities of a farmer:

  • Planting, growing, and harvesting plants.
  • Looking after animals.
  • Maintaining the farm and ensuring the yields of its crops and animals are optimal.
  • Operating and maintaining various pieces of farming equipment.
  • Supervising farm workers.
  • Farm service, such as selling or distributing produce cultivated, produced, or reared on the farm.

What the job is like

It’s not a secret that being a farmer is very hard work. The job involves a lot of physical labor, working with dangerous machinery, early starts, and operates in a complicated economical context that makes the industry challenging to turn a profit. This section takes you through all you need to know about becoming a farmer.

Work environment

Farmers will be accustomed to the great outdoors. Whatever the size and type of their farm, they will need to work outside in all conditions, come rain, shine, or worse. The role is physically demanding, both in terms of heavy lifting and being on the move pretty much all day long.

Depending on the size of the farm, being a farmer can be a solo or social job, but the farming industry in general tends to stick closely together. Away from the farm, farmers will spend time in towns and cities distributing and selling their produce, or in their farmhouse, repairing machinery and conducting administrative tasks.

Work hours

Night owls might find becoming a farmer challenging: the role involves very early starts, so you can check the crops and animals, and if you’re thinking this means you can clock off early as well, then think again! Even after you have finished working your fields, there will be other tasks to complete, such as maintenance, preparing, selling, or marketing your produce, and some office work.

The role also operates seven days a week: after all, crops and animals don’t take days off! All being said, the role has very demanding work hours, but many farmers love it anyway because of their desire to be working in nature and the great outdoors.

Occupational hazards

Both large and small farming operations can be very dangerous. The outdoor focus of the role means that you will be exposed to all kinds of weather conditions, and you will need to be prepared for this. You will be working with heavy machinery that can be very dangerous to use, such as plows, threshers, and tractors, so you will need to be fully trained in how to use these safely.

If your farm rears animals, then you will need to ensure you know how to handle them safely. Some farmers will be licensed to use firearms, which come with their own safety concerns. Finally, the role is physically demanding and very stressful due to the complexities of the work.

Job satisfaction

Despite farmers having to contend with plenty of challenges, studies show that they are really happy at work. This is often put down to farmers being in the role because of their love for nature, animals, and being in the great outdoors; in fact, data from the ONS in 2012 suggest those working in agriculture, forestry and fishing were the happiest. The role can be very social, and there is a true sense of community in the farming world.

Job market

The average annual job growth for farmers is much slower than the United States’ national average of 5%, as set out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. With over 141,000 new farming jobs opening each year, this growth might seem high but only really reflects the sheer number of people employed in the industry in the first place. In fact, this comes to only a 1% growth year-on-year until 2031.

The reasons for this slow growth are chiefly concerning mechanization. More and more farming duties can be undertaken by machines and technology, meaning that while the need for farming is becoming ever greater, the need for more labor isn’t keeping pace.


The average salary for a farmer starts at $31,440 per year ($15.11 per hour) compared to the United States’ national average salary of $58,260 ($28.01 per hour). Annual wages for farmers at the 10th percentile sit at $28,230 ($13.57 per hour), $29,120 ($14.00 per hour) at the 25th percentile, $29,630 ($14.25 per hour) at the 50th percentile, $31,320 ($15.06 per hour) at the 75th percentile, and $37,280 ($17.92) at the 90th percentile. 

The top-paying state for farmers is District of Columbia with an average annual salary of $44,040, followed by Hawaii at $37,700, North Dakota at $36,640, Massachusetts at $36,470 and finally Vermont at $36,620.

Salary Infographic Farmers

Essential skills and qualities

Becoming a farmer requires the use of plenty of different skills, some of which are nothing short than critical to ensure your crops are nurtured and your animals are healthy. This is list of the top six skills and qualities you will need to become a farmer:

  • Physical stamina: Farmers need to be in good health and have decent strength. All base aspects of the role require heavy lifting and plenty of time working outdoors, so these qualities are vital.
  • Farming operations skills: Farmers need to have an expert understanding on how to look after their most important asset — the things they grow or care for. Therefore, it’s important to have a good hand on farming operations to ensure your crop and livestock is capable of a good yield.
  • Adaptability: Farming is an occupation prone to changing weather conditions, changing laws, and coping with the good times and the bad. Having the mindset to cope with these changes is essential.
  • Mechanical and construction skills: Farmers will need to do plenty of repairing and maintenance by themselves, both in terms of the machines they use, and also to ensure their farm is well-maintained, such as fixing fences and gates.
  • Time management: Farming is all about managing complex deadlines, such as harvesting times, attending markets, and working to a demanding and exact daily schedule.
  • Business management: Farms are valuable real estate, so you will need to manage its accounts, create a business plan, understand how to handle income and taxes, and know how and where to distribute produce to maximize profit.

Steps to become a Farmer

Farming is hard work but can also be a very rewarding job. If you have gotten this far and still feel like it might be the career for you, then read on to discover the steps you will need to start farming.

Step 1: Determine if it’s the right career for you

The key to successful farming is to have a deep-rooted passion for nature and animals. You will naturally be interested in working with your hands, getting your sleeves rolled up, and getting stuck in. If these interests align with your own, then farming could be a good fit. Take time to consider the skills listed above, and if these align with what you are naturally good at, then once again, farming could be a great career choice.

If you are struggling to find a good career based upon your interests and skills, then don’t panic: you are not the only one! It might, however, be a good time to take a career test. CareerHunter has a six-stage assessment, aimed at aligning your skills and interests to various career paths. It will recommend different career paths based on the kind of person you are and advise you on how to make a start in each field.

Step 2: Complete the relevant education

Farming doesn’t necessarily require much in the way of education but having some educational experience will certainly help as you progress in the career. If you want to specialize in animal farming, then studying subjects like biology at high school will be beneficial. Carpentry, physics, or design and technology will help you in terms of the mechanical side of the job, and business studies will support you in the administrative tasks.

Some farming roles (like farm managers) might require university degrees, though this could be attained at a later stage as part of your continuing education.

Step 3: Complete on-the-job training

One of the best ways to get started as a farmer is to receive on-the-job training. This will typically involve working with an established farmer on an existing farm, to learn the ropes in terms of running a farm, how to cultivate crops, or look after animals. Due to the expense involved, you can’t go into farming half-heartedly, so this training will also help you get a real feel of the job and its challenges, to help you understand if it is truly the career for you.

Step 4: Obtain the applicable licenses

One of the most important licenses to have as a farmer is a driving license, considering the amount of moving around you will be doing. Farmers will also need to ensure they have pesticide licenses, as well as a license to breed and rear animals. The requirements for these vary from state to state. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) works with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on setting out what licenses are needed and where.

Step 5: Buy land and equipment

One of the biggest steps in becoming a farmer is to get started by yourself. The cost of the land and capital needed to become a farmer is substantial, so it might be better to work for an existing farm and build up from there. The USDA offers farm loan programs for both new and experienced farmers that can shoulder some of the financial burden. The USDA also partners with on providing mentoring services to aspiring farmers, to make the prospect of getting started in this tricky business a little less daunting.

Final thoughts

Becoming a farmer is not an easy career choice. The work is hard and grueling, but is also immensely satisfying, because you are so instrumental in the national supply chain, as well as getting the chance to work in nature.

Becoming a farmer is relatively easy in principle, and mainly relies on you understanding what the role entails and getting practical experience to build up your knowledge. It can be more challenging in terms of cost to branch out and start a farm by yourself, but there is plenty of support available to help you get started. Good luck!

Are you interested in becoming a farmer? What is it about this career path that appeals to  you? Let us know in the comments!