Advice to help progress your farming career

Whether you have been brought up within farming or are new to the industry altogether, it is worth taking time to carefully plan the next step of your agricultural career.

The choice of jobs is so varied that knowing what’s available and where to go for advice can be just as important as being able to milk a cow or reverse a tractor and trailer.

The following is a brief summary of some of the main farm-based jobs, outlining the key skills required, likely salaries and tips on how to progress.

It is based on information from a range of sources (see useful contacts); intended as a guide only and readers should be aware that rates of pay and benefits may vary significantly.

General Farm Worker

Skills and qualifications

An understanding of agricultural plants, animals and basic machinery maintenance is useful, plus basic health and safety, numeracy and IT skills.

Like most farm-based jobs, workers must be physically able and willing to work outdoors on a range of tasks, and be self-motivated as tasks often require working alone.

No specific qualifications are required, but college courses or apprenticeships may be useful ways of getting started and progressing in this career (see career progression) – some courses require minimum qualifications.

Gaining experience of working on a farm (such as a weekend or holiday job), dairy work or crop picking may also be useful.

Salary and benefits

Pay varies depending on age, experience and farm type. The average salary typically starts around £13,000, rising up to £25,000 to £30,000 for an experienced farm worker.

Accommodation, vehicle and the opportunity for overtime at peak periods are often available.

Hours are variable and farm workers are often required to work evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

Career progression

With experience farm workers can gain promotion to supervisor or unit manager on larger farms. Gaining more skills and training improves progression chances.

Those wishing to go into farm management should consider an agricultural or related degree course (see below).

Specialist farm management companies, such as Velcourt and Sentry, offer management training programmes and defined career progression routes.

Courses often include farm-based practical instruction, formal classroom instruction and residential personal development courses.

Agricultural colleges run many courses that may help develop a career as a farmworker, aimed at different levels (eg Level 1, 2 and 3), from an introduction into agriculture to more advanced skills.

Examples include Level 1 Land-based Diploma, BTEC or City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Agriculture, Certificate in Practical Farm Animal Care Skills, Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture.

Most training combines practical, work-based experience and classroom training.

Apprenticeship programmes are also available, providing paid (£140 to £245 a week depending on age and experience) structured training.

Specific contacts

Farm Manager

Skills and qualifications

Farm managers usually have an agriculture-related qualification and a good level of technical knowledge backed up by several years’ practical farming experience.

Qualifications relevant to a farm manager include: Level 3 Diploma in Agriculture; BTEC Level 3 Certificate or Diploma in agriculture; a degree in agriculture or a related subject, (normally requires at least two A level grades, with chemistry and biology preferred); postgraduate courses, which require a relevant first degree or HNC/HND together with relevant work experience.

Companies like Velcourt and Sentry offer farm management training programmes, while you could also move into farm management by working as a supervisor, dairy or arable unit manager, or assistant manager.

On-the-job qualifications such as the Level 4 Certificate in Work-based Agricultural Management are another option.

Farm managers should be skilled in: business management and IT, leadership and decision making, people management, business acumen and strategic vision.

They should have an ability to cope with responsibility and stress. Some may also be BASIS or FACTS qualified.

Salary and benefits

Starting salaries are typically around £20,000 a year, increasing to £30,000 with experience. An experienced manager on a large farm may earn more than £50,000.

Living and working on a farm makes for a great lifestyle often with valuable benefits such as rent-free accommodation, a farm vehicle and possible pension scheme.

Career progression

Farm managers often move around the country and sometimes overseas to gain experience. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is essential to keep up to date with the latest developments in agriculture, technology, policy and health and safety legislation.

As a general strategy, farm managers need to be active and known outside the farm business in societies and learning groups. As part of that, managers should keep in touch with their old university/college.

They should also build on qualifications and their track record of business competence and professionalism. A willingness to move area is important.

Potential follow-on careers from farm management include technical sales, consultancy and teaching, or agricultural advice.

Contacts

Dairy herdsman

Skills and qualifications

No set qualifications are required, but a dairy herdsman will typically have several years’ practical experience and some formal agricultural training.

Relevant agricultural qualifications are similar to those for shepherds, but tailored to the dairy sector. Many college and university courses feature modules aimed specifically at the dairy sector.

A range of other training courses are also available at many colleges/ universities, covering areas such as: artificial insemination of cattle, foot trimming, first aid, health and safety, transportation of livestock, safe use of veterinary medicines.

Other useful personal traits include an attention to detail, ability to work under own initiative, reliable, desire to work with animals and a willingness to work flexible/ unsociable hours (eg morning milking, assisting with calving, etc).

Salary and benefits

Herdsman wages vary depending on the amount of responsibility and size of the herd. Starting salaries are normally at least £22,000 a year and with experience this can increase to £45,000.

Rent-free accommodation and a vehicle are often provided and some employers may provide other benefits, such as pension scheme or free farm produce.

Career progression

Practical experience is important, especially when getting started in the sector. Farm management or jobs in allied dairy industries are possible progression routes, although new training (eg, sales) may be required.

The DairyPro professional development register provides a “one-stop-shop” for training and development in the dairy sector, providing links to relevant courses, events and journals, and allows members to create an electronic training record.

Specific contacts

Shepherd

Skills and qualifications

No specific qualifications are required, but shepherds should have some form of agricultural training, supported by practical experience – as a lambing assistant, for example.

Relevant agricultural qualifications include: Level 3 Diploma in Agriculture; BTEC Level 3 Certificate or Diploma in agriculture; a degree in agriculture or a related subject; postgraduate courses, which require a relevant first degree or HNC/HND together with relevant work experience; Advanced Apprenticeship in Agriculture.

Other useful training includes: shearing skills, foot trimming, ATV driving, first aid, health and safety, transportation of livestock, safe use of sheep dip, safe use of veterinary medicines, flock management, sheep husbandry.

Useful personal traits include attention to detail, ability to work under own initiative, reliable, desire to work with animals and a willingness to work flexible/ unsociable hours, especially at peak times (eg, lambing). Shepherds may also be required for other farm duties.

Salary and benefits

Salaries vary depending on the flock size and level of responsibility, but typically start at around £18,000 a year. With experience this can increase to £25,000.

Rent-free accommodation and a farm vehicle are often provided.

Career progression

The more technical knowledge and practical skills you can develop, the more opportunities are likely to present themselves.

Various agricultural colleges and universities offer courses (full and part-time) that will help develop a role as a shepherd or a related career.

For example, practical sheep handling and management, lamb survival and ewe management, BSc Animal Behaviour & Welfare, MSc Animal Science.

Experienced shepherds can go on to manage larger flocks within the UK or abroad, while others may go into allied industries (eg, sheep feed specialist, red meat food sector, farmers’ markets), sales, research and policy development.

It is therefore important to keep up-to-date with market trends, farm policy, animal health, nutritional advice, and health and safety legislation.

Specific contacts

Machinery technician

Skills and qualifications

Machinery technicians need a high level of mechanical skill and ability to apply information from technical manuals.

Patience and an ability to solve problems under pressure are needed, along with a strong health and safety awareness, maths and science knowledge.

Several colleges and universities offer agricultural engineering courses, such as: Level 1 Foundation in Engineering and Motor Vehicle Maintenance, Level 2 Technical Certificate in Land-Based Engineering, Level 2 or 3 Diploma/ Extended Diploma in Agricultural Engineering.

It is often possible to specialise in a particular area eg, agricultural machines, groundcare, forestry.

Many people enter this career through an apprenticeship. Entry requirements vary, but most employers expect five GCSEs grade 9-4 (A*-C) or equivalent, including English, maths and science or technology, plus IT skills.

Many large manufacturers provide apprentice training, often run in collaboration with a college or university.

New Holland, for example, works with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Reaseheath College to offer a four-year agricultural engineering qualification.

John Deere’s three-year Ag and Turf Tech apprenticeship leads to the IMI Level 2 and 3 Diplomas in Land based Engineering, while its two-year Parts Tech apprenticeship, leads to a Level 3 Diploma in Vehicle Parts Competence.

Salary and benefits

The average salary for an agricultural engineering technician typically ranges from £25,000 to £40,000 or more (£30,000 for an experienced technician, or nearer £40,000 for diagnostic technicians with advanced skills).

Apprentice engineering technicians may start on a salary of around £10,000 a year, depending on age.

Employers may provide transport, so a driving licence is needed.

Career progression

Ongoing on-the-job training is essential to keep up with changes in technology and regulations.

The role can incorporate many different areas, from machine maintenance and design to the use of precision farming technology such as remote sensors, robotic systems and automation.

Experienced technicians can go on to a range of roles, including diagnostic technician, master technician, workshop supervisor, service manager and sales representative.

Many leading farm machinery manufacturers offer opportunities for career progression through the company.

Others may go self-employed, move into training as a college lecturer, or take up opportunities with sports clubs, local authorities and specialist equipment servicing companies.

The Land-based Technician Accreditation scheme sets out a recognised career path related to pay scales (see iagre.org/ltaschemes).

Specific contacts

Farm administrator

Skills and qualifications

Farm administrators have a wide range of responsibilities, from budgeting, book-keeping and VAT returns, to managing detailed farm records, subsidy forms, employment records and general office administration.

Strong numeracy, IT, communication and organisational skills are therefore required, plus a knowledge of the running and management of a farm, and the ability to handle confidential business matters with discretion.

Most work is office based, although a driving licence and own transport is usually necessary.

Salary and benefits

Salaries range from £14,000 a year for starters, up to £25,000 to £30,000 or more for experienced staff working on large estates. Some farms may provide accommodation on site.

Working hours are usually around 35 a week during daytime, but evening or weekend work is sometimes needed. Roles can be on a full-time, part-time or self-employed basis.

Career progression

Continuing Professional Development is a key part of career progression and training is available to all Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA) members.

CPD grading begins with CPD1 in the first year, and runs on consecutively in subsequent years, CPD2, CPD3, etc.

Members identify the skills they’d like to acquire or improve, create a plan for the year ahead, and gain points for working towards this, such as by attending events, completing training and self-learning courses.

Some farm administrators decide to go self-employed or join other administrative/management roles once they have built up enough experience eg, finance clerk, business advisor, personal assistant.

Specific contacts

Forester

Skills & qualifications

The qualifications needed to become a forester vary according to the role and level of responsibility.

Tasks can include tree planting and felling, habitat management, maintaining trails, fire management and protecting trees against insects and pests.

College courses include: Level 2 Certificate in Land-based Technology, Level 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture.

It is also possible to study a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in subjects such as forestry, arboriculture, countryside management, forest management or woodland ecology and conservation.

It may be possible to get an intermediate apprenticeship as a forest operative.

Qualifications for operating forest tools and machinery are encouraged, such as: Level 2/3 diploma/certificate/extended diploma in forestry and arboriculture; Level 2 Certificates of Competence in chainsaw and related operations, all terrain vehicle handling or forest machine operations.

A driving licence may be required.

It may be helpful to gain work experience by volunteering for a woodland or wildlife charity, such as the Woodland Trust, the Conservation Volunteers, or a local wildlife trust.

The National Trust also requires volunteers to help manage its estates.

Salary and benefits

Starting salaries for apprentice foresters are typically from £10,000 to £14,000 a year, with more experienced works supervisors earning nearer £18,000 a year, up to £27,000.

A forest officer, managing a team of workers and planning woodland management may earn nearer £35,000.

Career progression

Progression prospects are clearer in larger organisations where experienced staff can go on to senior forest worker, works supervisor, or forest officer roles.

Others may need to change organisations or go self-employed and contract-out their services.

Alternative careers include tree surgeons or forest ranger roles for those with a stronger interest in wildlife.

Specific contacts

General contacts

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