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Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers own and operate farms, ranches, nurseries, timber tracts, greenhouses, or other agricultural establishments. Many are self-employed farmers and ranchers operating family-owned farms. Most farmers receive their training on the job, often by being raised on a farm. However, the completion of a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree at a college of agriculture is becoming increasingly important for anyone who expects to make a living at farming. While most farm output is sold to food-processing companies, some farmers – particularly on smaller farms – may choose to sell directly to consumers through farmers' markets.
The type of farm managers operate determines their specific tasks. Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers oversee crop production activities, while others manage livestock and dairy production. On crop farms – farms growing grain, cotton, other fibers, fruit, and vegetables – farmers are responsible for preparing, tilling, planting, fertilizing, cultivating, spraying, and harvesting. After the harvest, they make sure that the crops are properly packaged, stored, and marketed. Livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers and ranchers feed and care for animals and keep barns, pens, coops, and other farm buildings clean and in good condition. They also plan and oversee breeding and marketing activities. Both farmers and ranchers operate machinery and maintain equipment and facilities. Agricultural managers usually do not plant, harvest, or perform other production activities; instead, they hire and supervise farm and livestock workers, who perform most daily production tasks.
Specialty farmers include organic farmers who rely on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests without the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, or genetically modified organisms. Horticulture farmers oversee the production of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants – including trees, shrubs, and turf used in landscaping. They also grow nuts, berries, and grapes for wine. Aquaculture farmers raise fish and shellfish to be sold for consumption. They also stock, feed, protect, and manage aquatic life used for recreational fishing.
As farming practices and agricultural technology become more sophisticated, farmers and farm managers are spending more time in offices and on computers, where they electronically manage many aspects of their businesses. Nevertheless, farm work can be hazardous. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injury, and workers must be constantly alert on the job. The proper operation of equipment and handling of chemicals are necessary to avoid accidents, safeguard health, and protect the environment.
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