A career in agriculture

By J&C Team

From the eggs you scramble in the morning to the milk you drink before bed, the agriculture industry puts food on our plates each and every day – and could well see you as the breadwinner (pardon the pun) if you consider it as a career.

Although an estimated 660,000 people are employed in the industry, the majority of people in the agriculture and environment sector will find themselves working within a small- or medium-sized company (SME) – in fact, 94% of businesses employ fewer than 10 people, according to the Lantra Skills Assessment Report, 2010/2011.

As you may suspect, many jobs in agriculture are situated in rural locations, so if you already live “in the country”, a career in this industry may prove ripe for the picking – and if you don’t, it may be worth considering relocating, or looking for roles related to agriculture that crop up in more urban areas: such as landscape gardening or horticulture (growing fruit and vegetables) for instance. After all, it’s not only those in rural areas that have an interest in farming: Charles Dickens once famously admitted that cows were his passion!

The chain reaction

While you may not think of your dinner – and indeed all the food you consume – as such, it’s all part of a large supply chain. It’s the end result of a myriad of stages and a multiplicity of employees – just one piece in the larger food-chain puzzle.

1. Food production
This is where it all begins: where the agriculture egg hatches so to speak. From eggs being produced in hatcheries on farms, to crops being grown and harvested in fields, the production process needs plenty of employees to keep all produce on track. Breeder or Farm Operatives are responsible for looking after livestock or crops throughout their growth cycle, while a Breeder Farm Manager for a poultry farm may be tasked with ensuring the company’s health and welfare standards for the chickens are kept high and vaccinations are given on time. Then, of course, there are the Tractor Drivers, and other employees, who keep the fields in tip-top shape. Roles in food production tend to be hands-on and require long hours and shift work.

2. Food processing
It’s likely you’ve seen the typical image of employees working in a food processing plant, donning white overalls and fetching hair nets: these people are critical to this stage of the agriculture supply chain. Duties include controlling machinery that process the food, keeping machines clean, as well as ensuring the production line has a constant supply of raw materials. These types of roles often involve shift work, which can include evening, night and weekend work. With more experience, Food Process Operatives may be promoted to Shift Supervisors. Other, more technical, roles are involved in processing too, such as working in quality assurance (QA) or as a Technical Manager (who trains the technical and quality team, and is responsible for ensuring quality standards are met).

3. Food management
A lot of planning and projection is behind the production process and, of course, requires many employees, such as Production Managers, Factory Managers and Agriculture Planners. The last of those are tasked with optimising the supply and demand of the farm – or processing plant – using order patterns, product flows and cost estimations, to ultimately predict future supply for the company. This is ideal for graduates with a degree in science, business or engineering, as analysing trends and numbers is key to this type of role.

4. Distribution
Food doesn’t get to the shops on its own of course, and that’s why the distribution and transportation of produce is such an essential part of suppliers meeting demand. After food produce has been processed accordingly, and undergone quality control, it will need to be stored safely (which requires Warehouse or Factory Operatives to supervise it), stock levels monitored, and sold stock picked up and transported up and down the UK as necessary. A variety of employees make up the distribution section of agriculture, including Logistics Administrators, Transport Clerks – even the Drivers who actually deliver the goods.

Getting qualified

Working in agriculture isn’t all about getting your hands dirty: there’s a variety of qualifications you can undertake to prove you’re the salt of the earth…

City & Guilds (www.cityandguilds.com) offers Level 2 and 3 qualifications in agriculture – all the way from a certificate to a subsidiary diploma. Level 2 is ideal for those who are new to the industry, and are looking to get a thorough grounding. Work-based qualifications in agriculture are also on offer if you already have a job in crop or livestock production.

If you haven’t got a job in agriculture, but would like to learn while you earn, an apprenticeship may be the best fit. The UK’s Sector Skills Council for land-based and environmental industries, Lantra (www.lantra.co.uk), offers apprenticeships at Levels 2, 3 and 4 in agriculture. Level 4, the higher apprenticeship, is the Agricultural Business Management pathway for Assistant Farm Managers.

There are many more undergraduate courses in agriculture than you may think. Some are solely in agriculture, others are combined with business management or business studies. Entry requirements are generally broad with courses accepting both A levels, BTEC diplomas and City & Guilds diplomas. Remember: land-based qualifications, especially environmental or agricultural degrees, are commonly transferable within Europe – so may open up the opportunity for you to work abroad.

Words: Jessie Bland

Image: Shutterstock

[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in May 2013]