Agricultural Equipment Operator: Job Description and Requirements
Agriculture equipment operators work with many different types of farm machinery that are used to help with soil preparation, crop planting, harvesting and crop processing. Mechanical skills and aptitude are needed to drive hay balers, rake operators, tractors, cutters and other farm equipment.
Agriculture equipment operators are involved in farming processes such as tilling, planting seeds, fertilizing plants and harvesting crops. These seasonal workers drive or operate machines such as raking equipment, threshers, combines, tractors, loading machines, dryers and balers. Operators can also be in charge of maintenance and repair of the machinery they operate. Most of these equipment operators are employed by farming operations. Other employers may include manufacturers of pesticides and fertilizers, scientific organizations and government agencies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), increased competition from other countries and improvements in efficiency from technological advances will decrease job prospects for operators by three percent between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). Turnover rates are relatively high, however, so there are frequent job openings within the industry.
The BLS also reported that the median hourly pay of agriculture equipment operators in May 2012 was $13.17 per hour. Operators employed by farms involved in animal food manufacturing earned the most, averaging $16.52 per hour. The highest paying state for agriculture equipment operators was Hawaii, with an average hourly wage of $19.36 per hour in May 2012, according to the BLS.
To work as an agriculture equipment operator requires physical coordination, decision-making ability, mechanical aptitude and driving skills. Although not always required, a high school diploma may help find employment. High school instruction in science, machine shop, agriculture, mathematics and driver education helps develop skills needed for this job, along with participation in high school development organizations such as the Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H. In some states, 4-H offers the Tractor and Farm Machinery Operator Certification (www.4-h.org).
Some colleges offer certificate programs in agriculture equipment operation. These programs may include equipment maintenance in addition to operations training. Certificate programs take about a year to complete, and include courses in subjects such as hydraulics, mathematics, welding, construction technology, diesel mechanics and equipment operations. These certificate programs often combine classroom instruction and hands-on experience in equipment operation and maintenance.
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