Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Vegetable farmers raise and harvest vegetables for profit. They farm in every state and in every climate. They may work on large farms that cover up to six thousand acres and operate year-round, or they may work on seasonal farms of less than 150 acres. Tenant farmers rent the land they work. Some tenant farmers rent very large farms. Others rent only a few acres and raise crops during the summer months. Farmers may sell their vegetables from roadside stands or directly to food processing plants and food chains. They raise a variety of vegetables, including beans, potatoes, corn, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. Some farmers raise the same vegetable year after year. Others grow several kinds of vegetables in the same year. Some switch crops from year to year to ensure the highest profits possible.
The work that vegetable farmers do usually depends on the size of their farms. Farmers who farm more than 150 acres rarely do much of the field labor. Instead, they hire field hands and sometimes farm managers, while they work in offices managing their property and employees. At times they may check on work being done in the fields. They often meet with sales representatives of firms that sell farm goods and services. These representatives may help them to buy such things as seed, fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides. Owners of large farms may also travel to towns and cities to meet with representatives of banks and lending organizations. They often meet with purchasing agents of firms that buy their crops. They may also make sure that records are kept and bills are paid.
Farmers who run farms of fewer than 150 acres must take care of business affairs, but they may do much of the farm work, too. Sometimes they are helped by members of their families or a few farm workers. These farmers decide when to plow, plant, and harvest. Usually they run equipment and take care of the farm's buildings. They may also operate sprinkler systems that water the plants during dry weather. Often they start young plants from seed in their greenhouses. Sometimes they drive the trucks that carry their vegetables to markets or food processing plants. If they live in areas that have only one growing season, they may work part time in other lines of work.
Farmers who own or rent fewer than fifty acres usually do all the farm work by themselves. These farmers often raise a few chickens, pigs, and cows for food and for extra income. They may also have to do part-time work away from their farms to support themselves.
Education and Training Requirements
There are no specific education requirements for becoming a vegetable farmer. However, valuable training is available from many sources. One way to get this training is to work on a vegetable farm owned by relatives or neighbors. Prospective vegetable farmers can also take courses in farming methods at many rural high schools and vocational schools. A lot can be learned about farming in high school by joining a group such as the Future Farmers of America or the 4-H Club (a youth-oriented farm association). Many colleges offer courses, as well as degrees, in farming. Useful books and pamphlets are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and most libraries. It is also helpful to study bookkeeping and other business courses to learn effective management strategies.
Getting the Job
There are many ways to become a vegetable farmer. If prospective farmers have or can borrow enough money, they can buy a farm. Training or experience in management and agricultural economics can help in becoming a manager of a vegetable farm. If prospective farmers have parents or relatives who own a farm, arrangements can be made to run it after they retire. Candidates can also form a partnership with someone and become part-owner of a farm. Another possibility is to rent or lease a farm and work it.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Vegetable farmers are in business for themselves. They can increase their earnings by adding to the size of the farm they own. They can also manage a farm owned by others or contract to do work for other farmers.
Anyone who owns or rents land suitable for growing vegetables can become a vegetable farmer. But the chances for success are low for those who try to start farms on fewer than 150 acres. There are, however, more opportunities in jobs related to vegetable farming. These opportunities are for agricultural supply sales workers with firms that sell goods and services to farms.
Increasing productivity is expected to contribute to the decline of vegetable farmers through the year 2012, despite the high demand for vegetables. Most job openings will result from farmers who retire or leave the field.
Working conditions for vegetable farmers depend on the size and location of the farm. Those who run large farms usually spend most of their time indoors in offices. When they are in the field, they supervise farm workers. They may spend long hours dealing with agents from agricultural firms. Those who own smaller farms may do much of the farm work by themselves. They spend more time outdoors, and often they do the plowing, planting, and harvesting. Farm labor is physically strenuous.
Farmers in states with long growing seasons, such as California and Florida, usually work on their farms all year long. Those who own farms in states with short growing seasons may work long hours in the warmer months. If their farms are small, they may work at other jobs during nongrowing seasons.
Farming can be very hazardous. Most farm accidents involve heavy machinery. Working with pesticides may also be hazardous. Although machines have reduced some of the hard labor, most farmers and farm workers do some heavy lifting every day. Despite these hardships, many vegetable farmers enjoy their work. They like being their own bosses and working with plants and crops.
Where to Go for More Information
National Farmers Union
5619 DTC Pkwy., Ste. 300
Greenwood Village, CO 80111-3136
National Council of Agricultural Employers
1112 Sixteenth St. NW, Ste. 920
Washington, DC 20036-4823
United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association
1901 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20006
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings for vegetable farmers vary widely. Farmers who work thousands of acres may become wealthy. Those who own only twenty-five to sixty acres may be unable to meet expenses unless they take part-time jobs. Self-employed vegetable farmers must arrange for their own vacation time. Some buy medical insurance through farmers' organizations.