What's it really like?
Alex Walker 26 years old is a farm manager from Worcestershire
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I come from a country area and my family has always been involved with the countryside. However, I first started working on a farm as a summer job from school and have been in a management role on and off since 1999. I was full time during my GAP year and then after university. I have been full time again since June of this year and am lucky to have the job I left 18 months ago!
What did you do before this job?
I studied Scandinavian studies at the UEA and before coming back to the UK spent a couple of years teaching and translating in Barcelona, Spain. I really enjoyed my time in Spain but wanted to come back to the UK to find some more permanent work.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
The farm I work on specialises in fruit production and the majority of our produce is used for juices and, more importantly, ciders. The role is pretty varied and my typical day can involve anything from overseeing production of apple or pear juice, cider or perry to organising picking crews. Right now my main issue is making sure the irrigation system for the polytunnels is functioning properly; if not thousands of pounds worth of soft fruit will die! Also I make sure our farm shop is supplied with fresh fruit and that the correct fruit is being picked for the appropriate markets.
What do you like about the job?
Very occasionally we get decent weather and the Worcestershire countryside is the best place to be when the sun is shining! I'm also lucky to work with a lot of good people who work hard and like to get the job done. There's a really good atmosphere on the farm and it's fulfilling to see a product right through from seedling to sale.
What do you dislike about the job?
As you might expect I spend a lot of my time outdoors and when the weather is bad it causes a lot of problems and can be a real strain on the business. For example when it rains we have problems with fruit splitting and flooding.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
They must have a passion for the type of agriculture they are getting involved in. Remember they may have to put in long hours for poor pay and that farms are 24/7 operations. Also you may be asked to undertake tasks which you may not think are ´manager tasks´ but you must be willing to do them in order to get on with the powers that be. Be loyal to your employer and they will be loyal in return.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
I would like to somehow combine my language skills (I speak six) with agriculture. A farm manager is usually someone who has a passion for all things farming but doesn´t own any land himself. If I won the lottery I would buy a farm!
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
Qualifications are one thing but actual hands on experience is another. For example a few years ago we employed a farm manager who was qualified to the teeth but he couldn´t drive a tractor!!!
Farm managers potentially oversee the full range of operations on a farm. The nature of the job is likely to be different depending upon the size and type of farm.
The role of a farm manager is likely to depend upon the nature and size of the farm. On smaller farms the manager may be heavily involved in manual labour and the day-to-day farm work; contrastingly larger farms may have a range of farm managers specialising in different areas. This may include both farm-related activities such as livestock management or crop management and administrative roles including sales and marketing.
As farms increase in size a farm manager may become increasingly specialised. There has also been a growth in large-scale farming and an individual farm manager may now be in control of several individual farms covering different areas.
While historically farms tended to be family run businesses, increased commercial pressures and scientific developments have revolutionised the agricultural environment. Increasing world consumption of meat, imposition of tariffs and quotas, imports and other trade policies have placed further demands on farm efficiencies and as a result there is now an increasing number of large commercial agricultural companies.
Farms have also increased specialisation but will generally fall into three camps: arable, dairy or livestock. In the UK common crops are rape seed, wheat, barley and rye. Livestock will normally refer to sheep, lambs, pigs and cows, although there are now also several UK farms for more esoteric animals such as ostriches and or wild boar.
Alongside traditional farming, many farm managers are now also running a wide range of other activities. This may include producing speciality foods or products for direct sale to the public, offering bed and breakfast accommodation and other leisure activities.
The Institute of Agricultural Management recently published a salary survey for UK Farmers. Their most recent report (as at 2007) showed that that top farm managers earned around £40,000 per annum. The study also noted that remuneration will often include significant benefits including a house and use of a vehicle. The average value of these benefits in the survey was c £10,194 per annum. Initial salaries can be considerably lower and graduates should expect to start on c.£20,000 increasing to £26,000 once trained and experienced.
Farm managers overseeing large areas of productive land are likely to be on higher salaries than those noted above. Salaries for consultants and advisers may reach six figures.
In general, farm managers will be expected to have expertise in one or many of the following:
- tending livestock
- planting, raising and harvesting crops
- increasing crop yields and/or production for livestock
- purchasing and maintaining farm machinery and buildings
- farm administration including accounting, budgeting and other financing decisions
- managing and hiring staff
- buying and maintaining supplies
- taking products to market/ auction including purchasing livestock and selling products at best price
- meeting regulations set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- monitoring animal health and welfare.
Real-life experience will stand you in good stead. While no qualifications are required, and farms will appoint people based upon experience alone, it can be advantageous for jobs in large commercial farms to have an academic background. The most common qualification is a Higher National Diploma ("HND") in agriculture. Other qualifications include farm business management, agrinomony, estate management, and horticulture.
It is also possible to go into further postgraduate study such as an MSc or PhD. However, this will normally lead into an academic role.
- Given the increasing specialisation within the industry, keeping abreast of current farming developments including sustainable farming, genetic and scientific developments has become increasingly important. You should have a genuine interest in agriculture and farming before considering this occupation.
- Farm managers will be responsible for a team of individuals and being able to motivate people and work long and anti-social hours are both pre-requisites.
- You should be self-motivated and have good business aptitude including financial, negotiation and IT skills. #You will also need to build contacts and market farm products.
Farm Managers should expect to work long and anti-social hours. Agriculture is a 24/7, 365 day a year profession and you will be outside in a lot of weather conditions. You will also need to be comfortable with working with animals and understand the risks that are involved with this.
Experience is a vital component to sourcing the best jobs. Many individuals will inherit farms and those who have been in a rural environment since birth and become well acquainted with farm practices will have an advantage.
Farm managers are normally employed by either small independent farms or owners of estates and agricultural land. There is also a range of other employers including agricultural colleges and companies specialising in food production. See the related links section below for details of where to look for jobs.
Smaller farms have tended to diversify over recent years and now offer a range of activities and products to increase income. Farm managers may now be expected to run accommodation/ camping sites, develop new products or use farm produce to create a range of ready-to-sell products, offer field sports, fishing and other rural activities. Farms managers may also move into consultancy and advisory roles as well as academic positions. There has also been an increase in investment in agribusiness over recent years with some individuals advising investment firms and providing rural appraisals.
It may also be possible to take a role abroad or work for public sector bodies such as DEFRA.
It should also be noted that there has been a lot of press and government attention to the impending 'food crisis' and successful agricultural farm managers could potentially be in much greater demand.