The A to Z of careers in agriculture

Looking to get into agriculture, but not sure where to start?

Our careers A to Z is here to give you a flavour of what a varied and dynamic sector it can be, as well as an insight into which jobs might suit you.

A is for Agronomy

The role of an agronomist is an exciting one for people with an interest in science – not least because for the past few years the industry has actively been pushing for more people to join the profession, including those without prior experience of agriculture.

Agronomists advise farmers on the technical aspects of crop production, such as what plant protection products to apply, varieties, rotations and soil management.

It combines practical and academic knowledge and the opportunity to spend large parts of the working day out in the open air walking crops to assess their condition.

See also: A beginner’s guide to careers in agriculture and associated industries

B is for Buyers

Once crops are harvested or livestock is ready for market, they need a buyer –  and for any commodities that have to be processed before they reach consumers, that requires dedicated buyers working for a whole range of companies.

These roles tend to appeal to people who like building long-term relationships with farmers, enjoy negotiating and have a good head for figures.

They also need to be able to understand how global factors will influence market prices.

C is for Cows

If you like the idea of working with cows, then dairy farming could be the right option for you.

An experienced herdsperson can command an extremely competitive salary and on-site accommodation. Typical responsibilities are milking the cows and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the farm with regard to feeding and breeding.

However, the UK dairy industry provides myriad alternative roles from foot-trimmer and artificial insemination technician, through to jobs in the milk processing and manufacturing sectors, research or marketing.

D is for Diversification

Government statistics show that 62% of farms now have some form of diversification and nearly one-third of total farm business income comes from diversification.

Farmers have branched out into office space, tourism venues, food processing, wedding venues – you name it, they are doing it.

This has produced a need for people in the farming industry with the marketing, retailing, planning, health and safety and people management skills to develop and run these businesses alongside the farming operation.

E is for Estates

Country estates might conjure up images of Downton Abbey, but the reality is most are now dynamic modern businesses with a range of enterprises in the portfolio.

Farming could be just one part of it, along with residential property management, energy production, commercial property and diversification activities.

The estate and land management role is usually carried out by qualified land agents who are trained in areas such as valuations, land tenure and legislation, planning permission, compulsory purchase, tax and finance and are accredited with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

F is for Food processing

The farming industry is the bedrock of a much larger UK agri-food industry.

Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – worth £108bn and providing jobs for 3.9 million people.

Many consumers take food very much for granted and have little appreciation of how it is turned from a raw commodity into something they want to eat for dinner.

Yet the food industry has a constant need for appropriately qualified staff working at every step of the processing and manufacturing supply chain.

Graduate roles can include new product development, technical management, quality, business and retail management.

G is for Global

While the choice of job roles on offer in the UK is wide, for those who are willing to work overseas then the world really is your oyster.

There is strong demand for farmworkers in countries such as Australia and New Zealand and many people who try it find it life-changing from a career point of view because it widens their experience.

So if you like travel and are willing to leave the comfort of home, dust down your passport and get packing.

H is for Hens

The poultry industry is big business, given that each year UK shoppers eat 1.5m tonnes of poultrymeat and consume more than 12bn eggs.

There are about 30,000 people in direct employment in the poultry sector in everything from hands-on jobs on the farm through to logistics, marketing, food science, engineering and management roles.

It’s a sector that is large-scale, highly technical and offers great potential for career advancement.

I is for Innovation

Agriculturalists are among the “rock stars of innovation”, according to American futurologist Jim Carroll, who dismisses the old-fashioned view of the agricultural industry, pointing out how quickly technology such as drones, precision farming and robotics have all been adopted.

Today most farmers will have some sort of GPS steering system on their tractors and many use smartphone technology to monitor machines and equipment remotely.

This level of innovation means that there is a growing demand for employees who are IT-savvy, as well as practical-minded.

J is for Job satisfaction

The UK Cabinet Office carried out a survey in 2016 to find out which jobs make people the happiest – with farming appearing among the top 10.

It’s a profession that requires commitment and, at certain times of the year, long hours.

However, it is also one that is very fulfilling because agriculture is such as an essential industry.

Plus, you also get to work outdoors, surrounded by beautiful countryside and enjoy nature at its finest (even snow and rain can have its own appeal some days).

K is for Knowledge

Once upon a time, agriculture was a profession that careers advisers may have guided people with limited qualifications towards.

The emphasis was on practical skills, rather than academic ones.

That has all changed and such is the level of demand for quality graduates in the industry that agriculture is now one of the fastest-growing subjects at UK universities.

The universities themselves offer a wide range of agricultural and rural courses and are consistently named as some of the best institutions to study at in the country.

L is for Landscape

Farmers play a vital role in looking after the landscape, but they do not operate in isolation and there are growing numbers of people now working to help landowners grapple with the challenge of producing food in a sustainable way, while maintaining habitats, protecting water and soil quality.

Countryside Management degrees are one way into the industry, with job opportunities on offer afterwards with local authorities and employers such as Natural England, Defra, Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

M is for Meat

Grass is the biggest crop the UK grows, with the bulk being permanent grassland –  ideal for rearing the sheep and cattle that will eventually end up as meat on the nation’s plates.

The UK’s livestock industry is sizeable – we produce about 300,000t of sheepmeat and 880,000t of beef and veal a year.

Getting this from field to fork involves a supply chain that starts with farmers and farmworkers, but also includes auctioneers, abattoir workers, meat processors, butchers, food manufacturing and retail staff.

N is for Numbers

There are plenty of job opportunities in agriculture for people with a love of numbers, with roles such as bookkeeping and farm administration through to tax accountant or statistician.

Many accountancy firms have specialist farming departments that understand the unique nature of farming, the volatility associated with farm incomes and the need to plan carefully for capital gains and inheritance tax purposes so farms can be passed to the next generation in a tax-efficient manner.

The government’s drive to move record-keeping and tax matters online means that the administrative burden on farmers is growing and many are seeking to outsource this work to specialist administrators or farm secretaries.

P is for Pigs and Policymakers

P is of course for pigs – one of our stalwart industries and we go into full detail on what it’s like to work as a pig sector manager here, but it is also for policymakers.

Agriculture is an industry so essential to our very existence that there’s no escaping the fact that it is, and is likely to always be, policy heavy.

For the past 40 years much of the policy has been set by the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy, but post-Brexit there is likely to be a replacement British Agricultural Policy.

This requires there to be people within government, NGOs and farming organisations that can pick the good ideas from the bad and work out the practical implications of implementing specific agricultural and environmental policies.

Q is for Quality assurance

British farmers produce some of the highest-quality food in the world and one of the ways in which the industry can demonstrate this is the level of compliance with quality assurance schemes.

Food assurance schemes –  such as Red Tractor and the Lion logo for eggs –  guarantee defined standards of food safety or animal welfare and there are job opportunities in this sector as any farmer who is a member of a scheme has to pass a regular independent inspection to confirm that all standards are being met.

R is for Renewables

Long gone are the days when farmers just produced food.

Many farmers have also diversified into the production of energy from renewable sources, installing solar panels, wind turbines, biomass boilers, anaerobic digestion (AD) plants and even hydroelectric schemes.

This move towards green energy production has opened up career opportunities for engineers and advisers to help guide farmers through the process of implementing a renewables scheme on their farm.

Business opportunities have also been created for farmers to grow crops specifically for use in AD plants.

S is for Soil

Managing soils correctly is critical for farmers and wider society.

Fertile soil is essential for food production, but the quality of soil is also critical to the environment as it helps to reduce pollution and flooding problems.

Soil scientists are the people at the cutting edge of understanding soil processes and how to address soil management problems.

Soil science as a subject may be approached through many disciplines –  biology, chemistry, geology, physics, geography, mathematics and microbiology.

T is for Tractors

When people think of agriculture they tend to think of tractors and they are a vital tool on any farm.

The industry is highly mechanised and, with some of largest tractors available now costing up to £400,000, there needs to be an army of people to design, develop, build and maintain them.

The scale of the whole land-based machinery industry is vast – the value of sales of new farm equipment in 2016 was an estimated £1.5bn and there is also a thriving global market in second-hand equipment.

U is for Uniform

Wellington boots may be a farming institution, but it is a myth that all jobs in the agricultural sector involve being out in rain, wind or shine in a boilersuit and boots.

There are many jobs in the wider industry where wellies are not required, as the role is based away from the farm in an office, processing plant or research laboratory.

There will be some jobs where the people never visit a farm at all, but instead use their science, engineering or technology training to come up with new products and services that help to make farming more efficient.

V is for Valuable

According to a recent NFU report, every £1 invested in farm support delivers £7.40 back to the economy and society.

It is the first time that anyone has managed to calculate the monetary value of the farming industry and shows how important the sector is to the nation as a whole.

Farmers aren’t just producing food and managing the countryside, they are delivering wealth and prosperity.

It’s a growth industry in every sense of the word and one that people can be proud to be part of.

W is for Women

There is a perception that the sector is dominated by men – and it is fair to say that there are far more men than women working in practical on-farm roles.

But growing numbers of women are showing that it doesn’t need to be this way –  with modern technology and techniques making brain as important as brawn when it comes to forging a successful career.

If you look across the wider industry, you’ll also find large numbers of women working in senior positions within the sector, including the deputy president of the NFU.

X is for X-rated

There are some roles in agriculture where sex features quite heavily.

There’s a varied and successful genetics industry supplying semen, embryos and even live animals to farmers in the UK and abroad.

Roles can include working as a geneticist, breeding programme manager, technical sales staff or an artificial insemination technician.

It’s all about helping to improve the physical and financial performance of livestock, while at the same time delivering meat products that meet consumer expectations.

Y is for Young Farmers

The Young Farmers movement is one of the largest youth organisations in the UK.

It is perhaps best known for offering young people with an interest in the countryside a buzzing social life, but there is also a strong emphasis on competitions and skills development.

Many people say that the network of contacts and public speaking skills they developed in their years of being members of a YF Club have proved invaluable in terms of career progression.

Z is for Zoonoses

These are diseases of animals that can be transmitted to humans so are something that anyone working with livestock needs to be aware of.

But the goal of everyone who works with animals is to reduce disease risk and improve animal welfare outcomes.

A happy, healthy animal tends to be a productive and efficient animal.

There is actually a huge range of career paths in the animal health sector from large animal vets, to animal health and nutrition specialists.