How to Become a Farmer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a farmer. Research the common educational requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in farming.

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Do I Want to Be a Farmer?

A farmer is in the business of planting crops and raising animals. They harvest and sell their goods to produce markets and food companies both nationally and internationally. Farming is a precarious industry, because it's influenced by the weather and disease and subject to price vacillations. Farmers typically work long days, and some of the work can be physically strenuous. These professionals work outdoors with their hands in most kinds of weather, and about three-quarters were self-employed in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Requirements

Primarily, farmers are trained through hands-on experience and are not required to have a college degree. However, associate's and bachelor's degrees in farming or agriculture are available. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a farmer listed from the BLS.

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; however, a degree can be beneficial
Degree Field Agriculture or a related discipline
Certification Voluntary certification as a farm manager is available through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers
Experience Aspiring farmers can learn through apprenticeships or by being supervised and trained by experienced farmers
Key Skills Able to effectively communicate with workers, analyze livestock and land quality and make hard decisions
Technical Skills Experience operating and maintaining complex agricultural machines

Step 1: Obtain Relevant Education

Traditionally, many farmers are born into family farming businesses. Their experience is gained through observation and hands-on experience from the time they're children. However, the modernization of the farming industry has made it more necessary for farmers and ranchers to receive formal education and training as well.

A potential farmer can enroll in a university or college and major in programs such as agricultural economics, agriculture, farm management or dairy science. Students can pursue an associate's degree and take classes in animal science, conservation of natural resources, farmer science and principles of horticulture. A bachelor's degree program may consist of courses in agricultural economics and agricultural business management.

Certificate programs in agriculture are also available and may be ideal for those already working in the field of agriculture and wishing to expand their knowledge in specific areas, such as organic farming. Courses of study may include plant diseases, organic farming, nutritional science, food quality and safety, crop development and soil fertility.

Step 2: Acquire Work Experience

Farming students can increase their knowledge of the industry by participating in internships, which some learning institutions require. Internships give students practical, hands-on farming experience. Students may seek assistance from school advisors or faculty in locating internship opportunities. Additionally, many farmers learn their trade through on-the-job training by working with a more experienced farmer. For those who don't have a formal education, some farms offer apprenticeships to teach them the skills needed to begin a career in farming.

Success Tip:

  • Look for government assistance. The Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, offers inexperienced farmers an opportunity to work as an intern or apprentice. This can help prospective farmers gain experience and learn more about the farming industry.

Step 3: Become Certified

Farmers or farm managers can seek the Accredited Farm Manager certification through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Applicants must successfully complete a four-part certification examination as well as a test of the code of ethics. A minimum of a bachelor's degree in the agricultural field and four years of farming experience are also required to obtain this credential.

Step 4: Enroll in Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education courses are designed to improve and enhance a farmer's skills. Some schools offer continuing education courses in agriculture for those who have obtained their degrees. Programs are flexible and designed for busy farmers and agricultural professionals. Technical classroom or laboratory instruction may be given as part of the continuing education course.

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    Areas of study you may find at Iowa State University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
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