Education and Training: Two-year college
Salary: Average—$13.74 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Agricultural technicians are employed in all phases of the agribusiness industry. Many work for scientists involved in plant and animal research. Technicians relieve highly paid professionals such as agronomists, animal and dairy scientists, and food technologists of routine duties. Technicians also work for food processing firms and companies that manufacture, distribute, and market agricultural supplies. Some sell goods and services. Others work for banks, lending companies, and insurance companies. Many others work for large farms and farm cooperatives.
Those who work on farms are often called technical farm workers. They generally work for a farmer or farm manager. They may also work for grain and food processing firms that rent fields and orchards. Technical farm workers are usually in charge of growing and harvesting crops and protecting them from hazards such as disease and pest infestation. These technicians often supervise unskilled workers who plow fields, pick fruit, or operate harvesting equipment. Sometimes technical farm workers decide when and how to plant or harvest, or experiment with methods of improving the quality and quantity of crops. They may provide technical support in animal breeding, nutrition, and disease control. They may also operate complex harvesting equipment or machinery that spreads weed killers or pesticides.
Technicians who sell products or services are called farm sales representatives. Some work for firms that make and sell fuel, lubricants, sprays, seeds, and fertilizers. Farm sales representatives have a knowledge of farming, particularly whether a farm has any use for their firm's products or services. If they sell products that are used only during certain seasons, they know what time of year to approach their customers. An important part of their job may be calculating the needs of a farm according to the size of its fields and herds.
Agricultural technicians also work for firms that sell insurance, lend money, or offer services such as record keeping and crop picking. Banks, lending agencies, and insurance firms rely on agricultural technicians to estimate the value of crops, livestock, and farm properties.
Food processing field agents are agricultural technicians who buy crops and livestock for firms that process and package food. Field agents may inspect fruits and vegetables for their firms. These technicians determine the value of a harvest or a herd. Sometimes they arrange to have crops and livestock transported to their firm's processing centers.
Field representatives, on the other hand, work for farmers, growers, and cooperatives. Field representatives make sure produce will be ready for shipping to points of distribution or to food processing firms. Those who work for cooperatives travel between their headquarters and farms owned by members of the cooperative. During harvesting season they meet with farmers to find out when their crops will be ready to be shipped. Field representatives also try to estimate the size of each farmer's harvest. The staff at the cooperative uses this information to plan shipping and marketing schedules. Field representatives make sure that growers label their produce correctly according to size and quality. After harvesting season they meet with farmers to explain new methods of production and packaging.
Agricultural technicians also work for companies that process and store seed, feed, and grain. They work in processing plants, warehouses, and grain elevators—buildings where grain is stored. Technicians may operate scales that weigh grain. They may also take samples of seed and grain to laboratories for testing. Grain driers operate equipment that dries the seed and grain to prevent rotting during storage and shipping. Technicians also run machines that clean seed and grain or mix and prepare feed.
State, federal, and international agencies hire agricultural technicians to inspect crops and to bring modern farming techniques to farmers in the United States and in other countries. Some of these technicians work for state and federal agencies as research assistants to scientists who study crop production. Others serve as aides to soil scientists and cooperative extension service agents.
Education and Training Requirements
An associate degree or two years of schooling at a four-year college is needed to work as an agricultural technician. Some two-year agricultural colleges offer degree programs in agricultural technology. Courses are also available at junior colleges and vocational schools. Choose a course of study suitable to the kind of job desired upon graduating. For example, many schools offer courses that prepare students to work in the feed, seed, and grain industry. Courses in fruit, nut, berry, or grape production are helpful, as are marketing and business courses.
Some schools offer work-study programs that enable students to get practical experience. These programs may make it easier for students to find jobs when they graduate.
Getting the Job
The school placement office or college teachers may be able to help prospective agricultural technicians find a job. People encountered during work-study programs or summer jobs may be hiring or helpful in finding work. The state employment office may list openings for agricultural technicians. Check the want ads in newspapers for openings. Apply directly to farms, cooperatives, food processors, and other firms. To get a job with a government agency, apply to take the necessary civil service test.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Agricultural technicians can advance to positions that bring higher pay and greater responsibilities. For example, those who work for government agencies usually advance as they gain experience or continue their education. Technicians who work for cooperatives; for food processing companies; or in the feed, seed, and grain industry can advance to positions in marketing and public relations.
Job opportunities for agricultural technicians are expected to grow more slowly than the average through the year 2012. As new agricultural technology is developed, workers with training beyond high school will be needed in increasing numbers. However, most job openings will be to replace workers who leave the field.
Working conditions depend on the type of work involved. For example, technicians who work in grain elevators work indoors. Their work may be fairly routine. Those who work for agricultural scientists or technologists are also generally indoors. They may spend much of their time performing laboratory research and testing, or writing reports in an office. Technical farm workers, on the other hand, are often involved in outdoor work and hands-on farm management. Field representatives and agents have a great deal of contact with farmers and tend to travel a lot during the growing and harvesting seasons. Their work-days may be long and hectic when they do scheduling work.
Where to Go for More Information
National Grain and Feed Association
1250 I St. NW, Ste. 1003
Washington, DC 20005
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary widely depending on education, experience, responsibilities, and location of the work. Agricultural technicians earn an average of $13.74 per hour. The median hourly earnings of agricultural technicians working in research and testing services are $11.80. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations. Agricultural technicians who work for large industrial firms generally receive health insurance and pension plans.