Jobs Outlook: Farmers, Ranchers, and Agricultural Managers
Market pressures and low prices for many agricultural goods, will cause more farms to go out of business over the 2002-2012 period. The complexity of modern farming and keen competition among farmers leaves little room for the marginally successful farmer. Therefore, the long-term trend toward consolidation of farms into fewer and larger farms is expected to continue over the 2002-12 period, and result in the continued decline in employment of self-employed farmers and ranchers and slower than average growth in employment of salaried agricultural managers. As land, machinery, seed, and chemicals become more expensive, only well capitalized farmers and corporations are able to acquire many of the farms that become available. It is the larger, more productive farms that are better able to withstand the adverse effects of climate and price fluctuations upon farm output and income and to cover operating costs for livestock, feed, seed, and fuel, for example. Larger farms also have advantages in competing for government subsidies and payments.
In addition, the agriculture sector continues to produce more with fewer workers. Increasing productivity in the U.S. agricultural production industry is expected to allow greater domestic consumption needs and export requirements to be met with fewer farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers overall. The overwhelming majority of job openings for self-employed farmers and ranchers will result from the need to replace farmers who retire or leave the occupation for economic or other reasons.
Despite the expected continued consolidation of farm land and the projected decline in overall employment of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers, an increasing number of small-scale farmers have developed successful market niches that involve personalized, direct contact with their customers. Many are finding opportunities in organic food production, as more consumers demand food grown without pesticides or chemicals. Others use farmers’ markets that cater directly to urban and suburban consumers, allowing the farmers to capture a greater share of consumers’ food dollars. Some small-scale farmers, such as some dairy farmers, belong to collectively owned marketing cooperatives that process and sell their product. Other farmers participate in community-supported agriculture cooperatives that allow consumers to directly buy a share of the farmer’s harvest.
Aquaculture also should continue to provide some new employment opportunities over the 2002-12 period. Overfishing has resulted in declining ocean catches even as public demand for the consumption of seafood continues to grow. This has spurred the growth of aquaculture farms that raise selected aquatic species—such as shrimp, salmon, trout and catfish— in pens or ponds. Aquaculture‘s presence in even landlocked States has increased as farmers attempt to diversify and cater to the growing demand for fish by consumers. Additionally, growing consumer demand for horticulture products, such as flowers and ornamentals, trees, shrubs, and other non-edibles, is expected to produce better employment opportunities for greenhouse and nursery farmers and managers.