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How to Become a Farmer, Rancher, or Other Agricultural Manager

Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers typically gain skills through work experience and usually have at least a high school diploma. Traditionally, experience growing up on or working on a family farm or ranch was the most common way farmers and ranchers learn their trade.

However, as farm and land management has grown more complex, more farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers now have a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or a related field. In addition, a number of government programs help new farmers get training.


Most farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers have a high school diploma. Completing a degree at a college of agriculture is becoming important for workers who want to make a living from this occupation.

All state university systems have at least one land-grant college or university with a school of agriculture. Common programs of study include business with a concentration in agriculture, farm management, agronomy, dairy science, and agricultural economics.

At an agricultural college, students learn about crops, growing conditions, and plant diseases.

Prospective ranchers and dairy farmers, on the other hand, learn basics of veterinary science, including how pesticides can affect livestock.

Work Experience

Prospective farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers typically work and gain experience under more experienced farmers. Universities and forms of government assistance give prospective farmers alternatives to the traditional training method of being raised on a family farm.

Those without postsecondary education take a longer time to learn the more complex aspects of farming. A small number of farms offer formal apprenticeships to help young people learn the practical skills of farming and ranching. With government projects, such as Beginner Farmer and Rancher Competitive Grants Program, even those without any farm training can be paired with experienced farmers, learning through internships or apprentice programs.


To show competency in farm management, agricultural managers may choose to become certified. The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMR) offers a farm manager accreditation to ASFMR members who have 4 years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree. A complete list of requirements, including consultant course work and exams, is available from ASFMR.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers must monitor and assess the quality of their land or livestock. These tasks require precision and accuracy.

Critical-thinking skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers make tough decisions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve their harvest and must react appropriately to weather conditions.

Interpersonal skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers supervise laborers and other workers, so effective communication is critical.

Machine-operation skills. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers—particularly those working on smaller farms—must be able to operate complex machinery and occasionally do routine maintenance.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition