Farm Secretary

The Job and What's Involved

Farm secretaries look after the business side of a farm or estate. They carry out a range of administrative duties and deal with the paperwork that is generated by modern farming and rural business practices. They may also be known as an agricultural or rural business administrator.

The job demands close liaison with farmers and farm and estate managers to ensure that all routine administrative tasks are completed efficiently and on time. Farm secretaries may also undertake more complex tasks, such as completing legislative and management records.

Their main duties are likely to include:

  • Keeping records of livestock and crops, to monitor stock levels and help with future planning.
  • Completing forms for government grants and subsidies.
  • Preparing farm accounts and budgets.
  • Dealing with VAT and tax returns.
  • Completing legislative and management records.
  • Calculating employees' pay and keeping employment records.
  • Arranging quotations for buying, hiring and maintaining farm machinery and equipment.
  • General administrative duties including telephone work, writing letters and emails and maintaining manual and computer filing systems.

A farm secretary spends a great deal of time on budgets, accounting and other financial aspects of the business. Although some office systems may be manual, the work increasingly involves the use of computers on a regular basis. This often includes the use of spreadsheets, databases and tailor-made agricultural business software packages.

Farm secretaries may work for one large farm or estate or travel between farms, spending some time in each. Some mobile farm secretaries are self-employed, working on a freelance basis.

Farm secretaries usually work standard full-time hours. Evening and weekend work is sometimes necessary, depending on the farming activities and the time of year. There are full-time, part-time and self-employed job opportunities.

Most of the work is office based and involves sitting at a desk for long periods. Farm and estate offices are usually in rural areas, often in remote locations. Having a driving licence and a means of transport is usually necessary, particularly when working on a freelance or self-employed basis and travelling from one farm to another.

Starting salaries are usually from around £14,000 a year.
Experienced farm secretaries may earn up to £28,000 a year.

Experienced secretaries working for large estates or on a self-employed basis may earn in excess of £28,000.

Some farmers or estates provide accommodation for the secretary on site, often for a low rental charge which is deducted from the salary.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are job opportunities for farm secretaries throughout the UK, mainly in rural areas. They are employed by farmers or estate managers, either on a full-time, part-time or self-employed basis. Some farm secretaries work for more than one employer.

There are farm secretarial agencies in some areas, offering temporary work as well as full- or part-time jobs. Some of this work may be with agricultural accountants and consultancies.

Vacancies for full-time farm secretaries, based in one location, do not occur very often and tend to generate strong competition.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers or in Farmers Guardian or Farmers Weekly magazine.

Education and Training

There are no set academic qualifications to become a farm secretary, although employers usually prefer applicants with a minimum of four GCSE's (A*-C) including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. Good IT skills are also required for this role. Experience of working or living on a farm is useful.

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies and the Diploma in administration, business and finance may be relevant to this area of work.

As the majority of the work involves some element of book-keeping, a qualification in book-keeping or accounting is useful. Courses are offered through organisations such as the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) or The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is likely to be specific on-the-job training provided by individual farm and estate managers.

The Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA) can provide information on a range of part-time courses and distance-learning opportunities.

Other more general qualifications include:

- Foundation degree in business and finance
- BTEC Level 3 Certificate and Diploma in agriculture
- Level 4 Diploma in administration

IAgSA also provides a membership scheme for agricultural secretaries and administrators and a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme to help members maintain and develop their skills on an ongoing basis.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A farm secretary should:

  • Be knowledgeable about the running and management of a farm.
  • Have strong IT skills to include spreadsheets and databases.
  • Have good numeracy skills.
  • Be happy to work alone and as part of a team.
  • Be able to plan and prioritise their own workload.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to liaise effectively with a range of different organisations, including agricultural bodies and auction houses.
  • Be well organised, responsible and self-motivated.
  • Be able to work under pressure and handle confidential business matters with tact and discretion.
  • Be able to monitor sales and resolve customer disputes.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some farm secretaries become self-employed once they have enough experience, and offer specific skills to a range of farms and estates. Their progress and success is reliant on their providing a consistently high quality of service to their clients.

The all-round knowledge and experience gained as a farm secretary can be very useful in moving into administrative or management jobs in other agricultural businesses or rural industries.

Get Further Information

Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT),
140 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4HY
Website: www.aat.org.uk

Department for Environment Food
and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Eastbury House,
30-34 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TL
Tel: 0845 933 5577
Website: www.defra.gov.uk

The Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA),
National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Kenilworth CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6592
Website: www.iagsa.co.uk

The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers,
1 Northumberland Avenue,
Trafalgar Square,
London WC2N 5BW
Tel: 0845 060 2345
Website: www.book-keepers.org

LANTRA, Lantra House,
Stoneleigh Park, Coventry CV8 2LG
Tel: 0845 707 8007
Websites: www.lantra.co.uk, www.lantracoursefinder.co.uk
and www.afuturein.com

National Farmers Union (NFU),
Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park,
Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
Tel: 02476 858500
Website: www.nfuonline.com

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