Students who grow up on farms have the best opportunity to explore this field, but living on a farm is not the only way to check out this work. You can also join the local branch of the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) or a local 4-H club. The National FFA Organization is open to students aged 12 to 21 enrolled in agricultural programs and offers a wide variety of activities, including career-development programs. These groups will give you the opportunity to work on farm projects and meet professionals in the field.
You may also be able to obtain work experience on farms during the summer when extra labor is always required for planting, detasseling, and harvesting. During postsecondary training, heavy emphasis is placed on supervised occupational experience.
If you are between the ages of five and 22, you might also want to join the National Junior Horticulture Association, which offers horticulture-related projects, contests, and other activities, as well as career information. Visit http://www.njha.org for more information.
Corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, fruit—these are some of the top crops in the agricultural industry. The farms and orchards that produce these crops have very specific needs, differing from the needs of livestock and dairy farms. Farm crop production technicians understand how to best prepare soil, treat plants, and harvest crops. These technicians may have different employers, from scientists to government agencies to the farmers themselves, but they share intentions—to use their knowledge of crops and production to help farmers increase yields and market their products. And the work can be varied, involving grading and handling, pest and disease control, finding new uses for crops, and other tasks.
Nearly everything used on a farm is now purchased from outside suppliers: seed, fertilizer, pesticides, machinery, fuels, and general supplies. Companies selling these products need farm-trained technicians who understand buyers' farming problems and needs. Farm supply companies also need technicians to assist in research and development. These technicians work under the supervision of feed or chemical company scientists, carrying out the details of the testing program.
In the production phase of crop technology, some technicians conduct soil or tissue tests to determine the efficiency of fertilizer programs. Others are responsible for the maintenance of farm machinery. More experienced farm crop production technicians may oversee the complete management of a farm, including personnel, machinery, and finances.
Practically all agricultural products need some processing before they reach the consumer. Processing involves testing, grading, packaging, and transporting. Some of the technicians in this area work closely with farmers and need to know a great deal about crop production. For example, field-contact technicians employed by food-processing companies monitor crop production on the farms from which the companies buy products. In some processing companies, technicians supervise the entire crop operation. In others, they act as buyers or determine when crops will be harvested for processing and shipping.
Some technicians may work for the government or businesses performing quality-control work or nutrition research; others work as inspectors. This work is usually done in a laboratory.
In addition to the positions mentioned above, farm crop production technicians may take on the following titles and responsibilities.
Processing and distributing technicians may find jobs with canneries, freezing and packing plants, cooperatives, or distributors to make sure the work is up to government standards and to advise on matters of efficiency and profitability. They may work either in the laboratory or in the field with the grower. Laboratory technicians work with scientists to maintain quality control, test, grade, measure, and keep records. Field technicians supervise seed selection and planting, weed and pest control, irrigation, harvesting, and on-the-spot testing to ensure that crops are harvested at precisely the right state of maturity.
Seed production field supervisors help coordinate the activities of farmers who produce seed for commercial seed companies. They inspect and analyze soil and water supplies for farms and study other growing conditions in order to plan production of planted crops. They distribute seed stock to farmers, specify areas and numbers of acres to be planted, and give instructions to workers engaged in cultivation procedures, such as fertilization, tilling, and detasseling. They may also determine dates and methods for harvesting, storing, and shipping seed crops.
Agricultural inspectors work for state, county, and federal departments of agriculture. In order to inspect grain, vegetables, or seed, they must know grades and standards and be able to recognize common pests and disease damage. They may work in the field, at a packing shed or shipping station, or at a terminal market.
Biological aides and technicians assist research workers in biology, bacteriology, plant pathology, mycology, and related agricultural sciences. They set up laboratory and field equipment, perform routine tests, and clean up and maintain field and laboratory equipment. They also keep records of plant growth, experimental plots, greenhouse activity, insecticide use, and other agricultural experimentation.
Disease and insect control field inspectors inspect fields to detect the presence of harmful insects and plant diseases. Inspectors count the numbers of insects on plants or of diseased plants within a sample area. They record the results of their counts on field work sheets. They also collect samples of unidentifiable insects or diseased plants for identification by a supervisor.
Spray equipment operators work for pest-control companies. They select and apply the proper herbicides or pesticides for particular jobs, formulate mixtures, and operate various types of spraying and dusting equipment. A specialized technician within this occupation is the aircraft crop duster or sprayer.