Farm Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Autumn Farm SceneFarm workers' daily work depends on the type of farm they are employed on. They may work on a crop or a livestock farm.

Crop farm workers are employed to carry out manual work on arable farms. The type of work they do varies from season to season, and involves planting, tending and harvesting a range of crops:

Combinable Crops - these include wheat, barley, oats and sugar beet, some of which are grown for human consumption, others for animal feed. Growing these crops can be extensively mechanised, with computerised tractors that plough to a set depth, and seed drills that can seed a field quickly and precisely, adding fertiliser at the same time.

Vegetables - some may be sown directly from seed, others planted out as seedlings. Some crops need to be hand picked, while others are harvested mechanically. The produce must then be stored or packed up and sent to a processor or distributor.

Non-Food Crops - these include linseed, hemp, flax and oilseed rape. Oilseed rape is suitable for use in cooking and food processing.

Energy Crops - these can be grown for power and heat generation, and for the production of liquid fuels.

The work with crops involves:

  • Using tractors for ploughing, drilling seeds, spreading fertiliser and spraying crops.
  • Using other machinery, such as combine harvesters and balers.

Livestock farm workers work on a farm or estate, looking after animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. Their work depends on the size, type and location of the farm.

Farm workers responsible for livestock may specialise in one area, e.g. the care of a flock of ewes on a sheep farm or chickens at a free-range laying hen enterprise. On some farms, they may be responsible for many different types of livestock.

Their tasks may include:

  • Preparing feed and handling the livestock.
  • Cleaning livestock accommodation and feeding and watering equipment.
  • Milking cows or shearing sheep.
  • Loading and unloading livestock for transport.
  • Maintaining animal welfare and being aware of signs of illness.
  • Keeping accurate records of animal numbers and medication used.

Farm workers also carry out general tasks, such as:

- Driving small lorries to collect or deliver materials
- Looking after hedges and areas of woodland
- Maintaining ditches
- Maintaining vehicles and machinery
- Mending walls and fences
- Cleaning, maintaining and repairing buildings

They work under the supervision of the farm owner, manager or a supervisor. They may also supervise casual staff.

Farm workers generally work at least 39 hours per week, but are expected to work paid overtime when necessary. Early mornings, evenings and weekend work are all common. There are also opportunities for part-time and casual work.

Farming is seasonal and some times of the year are busier than others.

Most jobs involve working outdoors in all weather conditions and will involve standing, bending, lifting and carrying. Tractor driving involves sitting for long periods of time.

Farm work can be dirty and dusty and may not suit people who suffer from allergies such as hay fever.

Farm workers usually earn at least £7,239 a year at age 16 and £9,795 at age 19. At over 19, farm workers usually earn at least £14,986 a year. Experienced farm workers may earn up to £19,000.

Many farm workers are given free or low-rent accommodation or a lodging allowance. Overtime may also be available.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 150,000 agriculture businesses within the UK employing over 660,000 people. Many people employed within agriculture are casual or seasonal workers. There are around 380,000 people employed in the industry as their main job.

There is also now a greater demand for reliable, responsible and motivated people who can combine technical knowledge with practical skills.

The majority of jobs are in rural areas. For crop farming, the exact type of farming that is carried out in an area depends upon the climate, type of soil and local markets.

Most businesses are small, employing fewer than ten people.

Education and Training

Farm workers do not need any particular qualifications to enter the job, but it helps to have an interest in farming and in using agricultural machinery. Experience of working on a farm, either through work experience or a weekend or holiday job, may also be useful.

Agricultural colleges run a wide range of relevant full-time courses that can be taken prior to starting work.

These may include qualifications such as:

  • BTEC First Certificate and Diploma in agriculture
  • BTEC National Award, Certificate and Diploma in agriculture
  • Level 1, 2 and 3 Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in work-based agriculture.

It may be possible to enter this career through an appropriate Apprenticeship programme.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may also be an advantageous qualification to have achieved prior to further study, an Apprenticeship or employment.

This qualification, aimed at 14- to 19-year-olds focuses on practical skills, knowledge and understanding in environmental and land-based studies. To find out more about the new Diploma in environmental and land-based studies visit www.diplomaelbs.co.uk.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Many farm workers train on the job and attend college on a part-time basis. They can work towards work-based Diplomas (previous NVQ title) in a number of relevant subjects, including:

- Agriculture
- Mixed Farming
- Crop Production

Most training courses are a combination of practical, work-based experience and classroom-based training.

Short courses are also available for training in particular topics, such as the use of pesticides or how to operate a particular piece of agricultural equipment, tractor driving and fork lift operation.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A farm worker should:

  • Be able to meet the physical demands of the job.
  • Be practical and able to work on a range of different tasks.
  • Have an understanding of plants and how they grow.
  • Have an understanding of and care about animals' health and welfare.
  • Be capable of basic repairs to farm machinery and equipment.
  • Be safety conscious - farm work is potentially hazardous.
  • Be able to deal with simple calculations, e.g. weighing materials.
  • Be able to follow instructions.
  • Have good basic numeracy and ICT skills.
  • Be willing to work alone for long periods of time.
  • Be able to liaise with visitors to the farm.
  • Be willing to work long hours at critical times of the year.
  • Be happy working outdoors in all weather conditions.

Your Long Term Prospects

With relevant qualifications and experience, farm workers can gain promotion to supervisor or unit manager on a large farm. There is competition for these vacancies, and movement from farm to farm to gain experience and promotion is usual. Working on a larger farm offers more opportunities to specialise.

For those wishing to progress into farm management a degree course in subjects such as agriculture and animal or farm management may be an option.

There may also be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR
Tel: 0845 933 5577
Website: www.defra.gov.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
Coventry, Warwickshire 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,
Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LZ
Tel: 024 7685 8500
Website: www.nfu.org.uk

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