Approximately 975,400 farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers are employed in the United States. About 68 percent of farmers are self-employed, working on land they've inherited, purchased, or leased. Those who don't own land, but who have farming experience, may find work on large commercial farms or with agricultural supply companies as consultants or managers. Farmers with seasonal crops may work for agriculture-related businesses during the off-season or may work temporarily as farm hands for livestock farms and ranches. They may also own other businesses, such as those that specialize in farm equipment sales and service.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the states with the highest level of employment in farming are Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, California, and Minnesota.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for a person to purchase land for farming. The capital investment in a farm today is so great that it is almost impossible for anyone to start from scratch. However, those who lack a family connection to farming or who do not have enough money to start their own farm can lease land from other farmers. Money for leasing land and equipment may be available from local banks or the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. New farmers may also apply for assistance through the USDA's grant program, known as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (https://nifa.usda.gov/funding-opportunity/beginning-farmer-and-rancher-development-program-bfrdp).
Because the capital outlay is so high, many wheat, corn, and specialty crop farmers often start as tenant farmers, renting land and equipment. They may also share the cash profits with the owner of the land. In this way, these tenants hope to gain both the experience and cash to purchase and manage their own farms.
Livestock farmers generally start by renting property and sometimes animals on a share-of-the-profits basis with the owner. Government lands can be rented for pasture as well. Later, when the livestock farmer wants to own property, it is possible to borrow based on the estimated value of the leased land, buildings, and animals. Dairy farmers can begin in much the same way. However, loans are becoming more difficult to obtain. After several years of lenient loan policies, financial institutions in farm regions have tightened their requirements.
Farmers advance by buying their own farms or additional acreage to increase production and income. With a farm's success, a farmer can also invest in better equipment and technology and can hire managers and workers to attend to much of the farm's operation. This is true for crop, livestock, dairy, or poultry farmers. In farming, as in other fields, a person's success depends greatly on education, motivation, and keeping up with the latest developments.
Tips for Entry
Talk to farmers about their careers. Ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.
Read the Journal of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (http://www.asfmra.org/ag-publications/journal-archives) to learn more about the field.
Become certified by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers in order to show employers that you have met the highest standards established by your industry.
Land an entry-level job as a farm laborer to gain experience and develop your farming skills.