Agriculture, forestry, and fishing employs many occupational specialties-from bookkeepers, accountants, and auditors to mechanics and repairers. Among the industry’s wage and salary workers, the single most common occupation was that of farmworkers, who made up nearly 43 percent of the overall workforce. The majority of self-employed workers were farmers and ranchers, but many also worked as fishers. Along with farm managers, farmworkers, farmers, and ranchers comprise the overwhelming majority of workers.
Farmers and ranchers are the self-employed owner-operators of establishments that produce agricultural output. Their work encompasses numerous tasks, both production-related and management-related. Along with planting, cultivating, harvesting their crops and feeding and raising their livestock, farmers and ranchers must perform numerous bookkeeping activities. They keep records of their animals’ health, crop rotation, operating expenses, major purchases, bills paid, and income due, as well as pay bills and file taxes. If the farm or ranch has paid employees, its owner or operator may keep in order all of the paperwork needed to satisfy legal requirements, including payroll records and State and Federal tax records. Computer literacy has become as necessary for farmers as it has for many other occupations. Farmers also hire, train, and manage the schedules and supervise the work of farmworkers or farm labor contractors. They assign, monitor, and assess individuals’ work day in and day out.
Farmers and ranchers must have additional skills to keep a farm or ranch operating. Basic understanding and working knowledge of mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, and electricity are helpful, if not essential, for running an agricultural establishment. Increasingly, farmers are becoming more involved in marketing, too, especially in "direct marketing" where they sell their products directly to the consumer. Farmers who work large farms make decisions as much as a year in advance about which crop to grow. Therefore, a farmer must be aware of commodity prices in national and international markets to use for guidance, while tracking the costs associated with each particular crop. When dealing in hundreds or thousands of acres of one crop, even small errors in judgment are magnified, so the impact can be substantial. Thus, large-scale farmers strive to keep costs to a minimum in every phase of the operation. Furthermore, risk management of portfolios-the practice of juggling stocks, buying and selling futures, and engaging in other paper deals such as bond trading-is now becoming more important for owner-operators of large commercial farms.
Farm, ranch, and other agricultural managers operate farms, ranches, nurseries, timber tracts, and aquaculture operations on a daily basis for the owners. Agricultural managers perform many of the same tasks as do farmers and ranchers. Large commercial farms may have a manager for different operations within the establishment. On smaller farms, one manager may oversee all operations. Managers are responsible for purchasing machinery, seed, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, fuel, and labor. They must be aware of any laws that govern the use of such inputs in the farm’s locality. Agricultural managers must be knowledgeable about crop rotation, soil testing, and various types of capital improvements necessary to maximize crop yields.
Agricultural workers include occupations that perform a whole spectrum of daily chores involved in crop and livestock production. Graders and sorters ensure the quality of the agricultural commodities that reach the market. They grade, sort, or classify unprocessed food and other agricultural products by size, weight, color, or condition. Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse manually plant, maintain, and harvest food crops; apply pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer to crops; and cultivate plants used to beautify landscapes. They prepare nursery acreage or greenhouse beds for planting; water, weed, and spray trees, shrubs, and plants; cut, roll, and stack sod; stake trees; tie, wrap, and pack flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees to fill orders; and dig up or move field-grown and containerized shrubs and trees. Additional duties include planting seedlings, transplanting saplings, and watering and trimming plants.
Farmworkers, farm and ranch animals care for farm, ranch, or aquaculture animals that may include cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, poultry, finfish, shellfish, and bees. They also tend to animals raised for animal products, such as meat, fur, skins, feathers, eggs, milk, and honey. Duties may include feeding, watering, herding, grazing, castrating, branding, debeaking, weighing, catching, and loading animals. These farmworkers also may maintain records on animals, examine animals to detect diseases and injuries, and assist in birth deliveries and administer medications, vaccinations, or insecticides, as appropriate. Daily duties include cleaning and maintaining animal housing areas. These workers also may repair farm buildings and fences and haul livestock products to market. On dairy farms, they may operate milking machines and other dairy-processing equipment.
Forest and conservation workers perform a variety of tasks to reforest and conserve timber lands and maintain forest facilities, such as roads and campsites. They may plant tree seedlings to reforest timber land areas, remove diseased or undesirable trees, and spray trees with insecticides. They also may clear away brush and debris from trails, roadsides, and camping areas. Other forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries, sorting out tree seedlings and discarding those that do not meet prescribed standards of root formation, stem development, and foliage condition.
Foresters manage forested lands for economic, recreational, and conservation purposes. They inventory the type, amount, and location of standing timber, determine the timber’s worth, negotiate with purchasers for the timber, and draw up contracts for tree removal and procurement. Foresters determine how to conserve wildlife habitats, creekbeds, water quality, and soil stability, and how best to comply with environmental regulations. They also devise plans for planting and growing trees, monitor the trees’ growth, and determine the best time for harvesting.
Forest and conservation technicians, under the direction of foresters, compile data on the size, content, and condition of forest land tracts. These workers travel through sections of forest to gather basic information, such as species and population of trees, disease and insect damage, tree seedling mortality, and conditions that may cause fire danger. Forest and conservation technicians also train and lead forest and conservation workers in seasonal activities, such as planting tree seedlings, putting out forest fires, and maintaining recreational facilities.
Fishers and related fishing workers use nets, fishing rods, or other equipment to catch and trap various types of marine life for human consumption, animal feed, bait, and other uses. Fishing boat captains plan and oversee fishing operations-the fish to be sought, the location of the best fishing grounds, the method of capture, the duration of the trip, and the sale of the catch. First mates-captains’ assistants, who must be familiar with navigation requirements and the operation of the vessel and all of its electronic equipment-assume control of the vessel when the captain is off duty. Boatswains, highly experienced deckhands with supervisory responsibilities, direct the deckhands as they carry out the sailing and fishing operations.