Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Fruit farmers grow and market fruit for profit. They own their orchards and vineyards. Fruit farmers generally specialize in one kind of fruit depending on the region in which they live. Citrus fruit, a major crop in the United States, is grown mainly in Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona. Washington leads all other states in the production of apples. Pears, peaches, berries, and melons are other important crops. Fruit farmers also grow nuts, like pecans and walnuts, and grapes for eating or for making wine.
Fruit farming is outdoor, seasonal work. The duties of the grower depend on the crop, the season, and the size of the orchard or vineyard. Crops such as grapes require a great deal of manual labor. Vineyard owners hire seasonal workers to perform the physical labor and confine their duties to supervisory and business tasks. In general, fruit farmers supervise the work, buy machinery and supplies, and train technicians and other workers. Many hire farm managers to run the agricultural aspects of the business. Fruit farmers whose crops can be planted and harvested by machine may invest their money in heavy equipment and hire few laborers. Fruit farmers may run the equipment themselves. During seasons when growing is not possible, fruit farmers overhaul equipment, repair farm buildings, and make plans for the next season. Some have jobs away from the farm to supplement their income.
Planting, raising, harvesting, and marketing are the essentials of every farmer's job. Fruit is seldom planted from seed. Instead, shoots or cuttings are planted to develop new trees, bushes, or plants. New trees and vines may not yield fruit for several years after they are planted. Therefore, even farmers with established fruit farms must plant every year to replace trees that will die or become weak in the future.
Most fruit farmers use chemicals to get rid of pests and diseases in order to have a good harvest. Crops are sprayed or dusted by farm machines or by airplanes that fly over the crops. Some fruit farmers contract to have outside companies perform this work. Another necessary job in fruit farming is pruning, which is done by hand or with power tools. Pruning, or cutting back, is done so that the plants will produce high-quality fruit at harvest time.
Fruit is picked during the harvest season. Depending on the location and the crop, the harvest may last for just a few days or for several months. Marketing the crop wisely is crucial to successful fruit farming. Some fruit farmers are under contract to deliver their entire crop to food processors or distributing companies. Some sell their harvest through growers' cooperatives. Others sell their own crops to food stores or at roadside stands, auctions, or farmers' markets. Even with a good crop, the fruit farmer can lose money at the marketing stage if demand or prices are low.
Education and Training Requirements
Prospective fruit farmers must have a good understanding of crop production, business practices, and management techniques. The trend among prospective fruit farmers is to complete a formal four-year college education. Interested students should take courses in agricultural science, accounting, marketing, and business. They could also prepare for the job by getting an associate degree from a two-year college or technical institute. After college, candidates must continue to keep up with developments in the field.
Another way to learn about the business is by working for a successful fruit farm. Work experience gives candidates the best background to become a farm manager or fruit farmer.
Getting the Job
To start a fruit farm, prospective farmers must have or be able to borrow a great deal of money. One way to get into the field is to start as a technician or laborer on someone else's farm. Placement offices in agricultural colleges can offer assistance with job leads. Also check newspaper want ads and the state employment office.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Fruit farmers may increase the size of their farms to add to their earning potential. Workers on fruit farms may become farm managers or start their own farms. Some go into related areas of work. For example, fruit farmers have the background to work as buyers for food processing companies.
The financial risks are high in fruit farming, and not all farmers succeed. Although there is a fairly constant demand for fruit, because of improved methods bigger crops can be raised on fewer acres by fewer farmers. In the future, the number of people engaged in fruit farming will decrease.
Working conditions depend on the crop grown and the size of the farm. Some fruit farmers perform administrative work in their offices. They attend farmers' meetings and meet with sales workers. Other farmers perform physical labor in the fields. Those who have only a few employees to help them may work extremely long and hard hours during harvest time. Although most fruit farmers take pride in being their own bosses, they face economic uncertainty. Some take part-time or seasonal jobs away from the farm to increase their earnings.
Where to Go for More Information
Fresh Produce and Floral Council
16700 Valley View Ave., Ste. 130
La Mirada, CA 90638
United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association
1901 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20006
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on location, investment, and size of the farm. The annual income of farmers fluctuates from year to year depending on weather conditions and other factors that influence farm production. Farm income also varies depending on the size of the landholding and the type of operation. Large farms generally provide higher earnings than small farms. Most farmers usually have income from nonfarm sources. Self-employed farmers must provide their own benefits, such as insurance and retirement plans.