The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry sector plays a vital
role in our economy and our lives. It supplies us and many other
countries with a wide variety of food products and non-food products
such as fibers, lumber, and nursery items. It contributes positively to
our foreign trade balance and it remains one of the Nation's larger
industries in terms of total employment. However, technology continues
to enable us to produce more of these products with fewer workers,
resulting in fewer farms and farmworkers.
forestry, and fishing includes two large subsectors -- crop production
and animal production -- plus three smaller subsectors -- forestry and
logging, fishing, and agricultural support activities. Crop production
includes farms that mainly grow crops used for food and fiber, while
animal production includes farms and ranches that raise animals for sale
or for animal products. The fishing subsector includes mainly fishers
that catch fish and shellfish to sell, while the forestry and logging
subsector includes establishments that grow, harvest, and sell timber.
The agricultural support activities subsector includes establishments
that perform any number of agricultural-related activities, such as soil
preparation, planting, harvesting, or management on a contract or fee
in agriculture, forestry, and fishing include farms, ranches, dairies,
greenhouses, nurseries, orchards, and hatcheries. The operators, or
people who run these agricultural businesses, typically either own the
land in production or they lease the land from the owner. But production
may also take place in the country's natural habitats and on
government-owned lands and waterways, as in the case of logging,
cattle-grazing, and fishing.
The vast majority of farms, ranches, and fishing companies are small
enterprises, owned and operated by families as their primary or
secondary source of income. Although large family farms (those
generating more than $250,000 per year in gross annual sales) and
corporate farms comprise less than 10 percent of the establishments in
the industry, they produce three-fourths of all agricultural output.
Increasingly, these large farms are being operated for the benefit of
large agribusiness firms, which buy most of the product.
production is the major activity of this industry sector and it consists
of two large subsectors, animal production and crop production. Animal
production includes establishments that raise livestock, such as beef
cattle, poultry, sheep, and hogs; farms that employ animals to produce
products, such as dairies, egg farms, and apiaries (bee farms that
produce honey); and animal specialty farms, such as horse farms and
aquaculture (fish farms). Crop production includes the growing of
grains, such as wheat, corn, and barley; field crops, such as cotton and
tobacco; vegetables and melons; fruits and nuts; and horticultural
specialties, such as flowers and ornamental plants. Of course, many
farms have both crops and livestock, such as those that grow their own
animal feed, or have diverse enterprises.
The nature of
agricultural work varies, depending on the crops grown, animals being
raised, and the size of the farm. Although much of the work is now
highly mechanized, large numbers of people still are needed to plant and
harvest some crops on the larger farms. During the planting, growing,
and harvesting seasons, farmers and their employees are busy for long
hours, executing such activities as plowing, disking, harrowing,
seeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Vegetables generally are still
harvested manually by groups of migrant farmworkers, although new
machines have been developed to replace manual labor for some fruit
crops. Vegetable growers on large farms of approximately 100 acres or
more usually practice "monoculture," large-scale cultivation of one crop
on each division of land. Fieldwork on large grain farms—consisting of
hundreds, sometimes thousands, of acres—often is done using modern
agricultural equipment, such as massive tractors controlled by global
positioning system (GPS) technology.
Production of some
types of crops and livestock tends to be concentrated in particular
regions of the country based on growing conditions and topography. For
example, the warm climates of Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona
are well suited for citrus fruit production, while Northern States are
better suited to growing blueberries, potatoes, and apples. Grains,
hogs, and range-fed cattle are major products in the Plains States,
where cattle feedlots also are numerous. In the Southwest and West,
ranchers raise beef cattle.
Poultry and dairy
farms tend to be found in most areas of the country. Most poultry and
egg farms are large operations resembling production lines. Although
free-range farms allow fowl some time outside during the day for
exercise and sunlight, most poultry production involves mainly indoor
work, with workers repeatedly performing a limited number of specific
tasks. Because of increased mechanization, poultry growers can raise
chickens by the thousands—sometimes by the hundreds of thousands—under
one roof. Although eggs still are collected manually in some small-scale
hatcheries, eggs tumble down onto conveyor belts in larger hatcheries.
Machines then wash, sort, and pack the eggs into individual cartons.
Workers place the cartons into boxes and stack the boxes onto pallets
raise fish and shellfish in salt, brackish, or fresh water, depending on
the requirements of the particular species. Small fish farms usually use
ponds, floating net pens, raceways, or recirculating systems, but larger
fish farms are actually in the sea, relatively close to shore. Workers
on aquaculture farms stock, feed, protect, and otherwise manage aquatic
life to be sold for consumption or used for recreational fishing.
raise ornamental plants, bulbs, shrubbery, sod, and flowers. Although
much of the work takes place outdoors, in colder climates, substantial
production also takes place in greenhouses or hothouses. The work can be
year-round on such farms.
Workers employed in
the forestry and logging subsector grow and harvest timber on a long
production cycle of 10 years or more, and specialize in different stages
of the production cycle. Those engaged in reforestation handle seedlings
in specialized nurseries. Workers in timber production remove diseased
or damaged trees from timberland, as well as brush and debris that could
pose a fire hazard. Besides commercial timberland, they may also work in
natural forests or other suitable areas of land that remain available
for production over a long duration. Logging workers harvest timber,
which becomes lumber for construction, wood products, or paper products.
They cut down trees, remove their tops and branches, and cut their
trunks into logs of specified length. They usually use a variety of
specialized machinery to move logs to loading areas and load them on
trucks for transport to papermills and sawmills.
People employed in the
fishing subsector harvest fish and shellfish from their natural habitat
in fresh water and in tidal areas and the ocean, and their livelihood
depends on a naturally replenishing supply of fish, lobster, shellfish,
or other edible marine life. Some full-time and many part-time fishers
work on small boats in relatively shallow waters, often in sight of
land. Crews are small—usually only one or two people collaborate on all
aspects of the fishing operation. Others fish hundreds of miles offshore
on large commercial fishing vessels. Navigation and communication are
essential for the safety of all of those who work on the water, but
particularly for those who work far from shore. Large boats, capable of
hauling a catch of tens of thousands of pounds of fish, require a crew
that includes a captain, or "skipper," a first mate and sometimes a
second mate, a boatswain (called a deckboss on some smaller boats), and
deckhands to operate the fishing gear, sort and load the catch when it
is brought to the deck, and aid in the general operation of the vessel.
The final subsector of
agriculture, forestry, and fishing includes companies that provide
agricultural support services to establishments in the other subsectors.
On farms that primarily grow crops, these activities may include farm
management services, soil preparation, planting and cultivating
services, as well as crop harvesting and post-harvesting services. Other
support services companies provide aerial dusting and spraying of
pesticides over a large number of acres. They may also perform
post-harvesting tasks to prepare crops for market, including shelling,
fumigating, cleaning, grading, grinding, and packaging agricultural
products. Typically, such support services are provided to the larger
farms that are run more like businesses. As farms get larger, it becomes
more economical as well as necessary to hire specialists to perform a
range of farm services, from pest management to animal breeding.
Establishments providing farm management services manage farms on a
contract or fee basis. As more farms are owned by absentee landowners
and corporations, farm managers are being hired to run the farms. They
make decisions about planting and harvesting, and they do most of the
hiring of farmworkers and specialists.
support services subsector also includes farm labor contractors who
specialize in supplying labor for agricultural production. Farm labor
contractors provide and manage temporary farm laborers—often migrant
workers—who usually work during peak harvesting times. Contractors may
place bids with farmers to harvest labor-intensive crops such as fruit,
nuts, and vegetables or perform other short-term tasks. Once the bid is
accepted, the contractor, or crew leader, organizes and supervises the
laborers as they harvest, load, move, and store the crops.
supply support activities for animal production perform services that
may include breeding, pedigree record services, boarding horses,
livestock spraying, and sheep dipping and shearing. Workers in
establishments providing breeding services monitor herd condition and
nutrition, evaluate the quality and quantity of forage, recommend
adjustments to feeding when necessary, identify the best cattle or other
livestock for breeding and calving, advise on livestock pedigrees,
inseminate cattle artificially, and feed and care for sires.
agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry sector is being transformed
by the implementation of science and technology in almost every phase of
the agricultural process. For example, bioengineered crops that are
resistant to pests or frost or that can withstand drought conditions
enable farmers to produce more food without using costly insecticides
and irrigation. The use of GPS in tractors helps farmers to cut the time
it takes to plant and harvest a crop and enables more rows of crops to
be planted per acre. And the latest science in genetics is being used to
breed animals with specific characteristics. The use of modern equipment
and technology has changed the way ranching is done. Branding and
vaccinating of herds, for example, are largely mechanized. The use of
trucks, portable communications gear, and global positioning equipment
now is common and saves valuable time for ranchers.
Marketing is becoming
more important in agriculture. For small farms to make money, many have
had to come up with ways to bypass the middleman and sell directly to
consumers or other end users. For example, some fruit and vegetable
growers use the marketing strategy of "pick-your-own" produce, set up
roadside stands, or sell at farmers' markets. More local growers are
contracting with nearby restaurants or grocery stores to sell their
produce, many of which are being ordered over the Internet by customers.
Another development is
the use of crops, particularly corn, to produce ethanol as a source of
energy. The impact of this development on the agriculture industry is
not yet known. The rise in the price of corn will no doubt help corn
farmers, but may have unintended effects as land used for other crops is
taken out of production and replaced with corn, and the rising price of
corn causes problems for consumers of other corn products and producers
that feed corn to animals. Organic farming, however, provides farmers
with tremendous growth opportunities. The 2008 Farm Act, which provides
farmers funding to convert their operations to organic agriculture, is
expected to continue bolstering this segment. Its success is shown in
the doubling of acreage devoted to it between 2002 and 2005, with more
than 4 million acres of both pastureland and crops farmed organically.
Sales of organically raised foodstuffs have grown four-fold since 1997,
and the prospects for more such growth seem all but certain.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing attract people who enjoy working with
animals, living an independent lifestyle, or working outdoors on the
land. For some, however, there may be office or laboratory environments
- or a mixture of the two. Some of the work done by those with a degree
in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who work in
agriculture may spend some time in an office setting and some time
outdoors -- depending on the work they do in support of the agriculture
agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry employs a total of 1.3
million wage and salary workers plus an additional 850,600 self-employed
and unpaid family workers, making it one of the largest industries in
the nation. Over 86 percent of employment is in crop production and
animal production. Most establishments in agriculture, forestry, and
fishing are very small. Nearly 78 percent employ fewer than 10 workers.
Overall, this industry sector is also unusual in that self-employed and
unpaid family workers account for such a high proportion of its
Paths into this Industry
There are many career paths into every industry...within the Career Cornerstone Center we focus on describing the STEM and Medicine (STEM)
career paths that may be prevalent in a given industry.
Bioengineers work on developing crops that are resistant to disease;
veterinarians are needed in dairy operations and herds of cattle, and
engineers are continually developing new equipment for irrigation,
harvesting and seeding to streamline production and reduce production
Employment in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry sector is
projected to experience little or no change over the 2008-2018 period,
which is a contrast to many years of employment declines. Rising costs,
greater productivity, increasing urbanization, and greater imports of
lumber and fish will cause many workers to leave this industry, although
at a slower pace than in the past.
Market pressures on
the family farm will continue to drive consolidation in the industry, as
the more prosperous farms become bigger so as to achieve greater
economies of scale, along with a greater portion of farm subsidies. In
addition, increasing productivity overall means that it takes less farm
labor to produce crops and livestock than in the past. For many farmers,
the low prices for many agricultural goods have not kept up with the
increasing costs of farming. For those who need to make a living from
their farm, these conditions make it difficult for many small farmers to
declines in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, however, are being
moderated by other changes taking place in agriculture. For instance,
domestic consumers are increasingly gravitating toward purchasing their
agricultural products from farmers markets, community supported
agriculture, and other locally grown food producers. Exports for
agricultural products also are rising, reflecting international demand.
New developments in the marketing of milk and other agricultural produce
through farmer-owned and -operated cooperatives hold promise for some
dairy and other farms. Furthermore, demand continues to rise for organic
farm produce—grown to a great extent on small- to medium-sized farms.
The production of crops without the use of pesticides and certain
chemicals is allowing farms of small acreage to remain economically
viable. Also, some Federal, State, and local government programs provide
assistance targeted at small farms. For example, some programs allow
farmers to sell the development rights to their property to nonprofit
organizations devoted to preserving green space. This immediately lowers
the market value of the land—and the property taxes levied on it—making
farming more affordable.
aquaculture had been growing steadily in recent years in response to
growth in the demand for fish. However, competition from imported
farm-raised fish and unsettled regulatory concerns about environmental
impacts of fish farms is slowing the growth of aquaculture.
In fishing, increases
in imports and efforts to revive many fisheries through stringent limits
on fishing activity will continue to lead to employment declines. In
certain areas of the country, such as Alaska, prudent management has
sustained healthy fisheries that should continue to harvest massive
amounts of fish. In other areas, fisheries have been damaged by coastal
pollution and depleted by years of overfishing. In these areas there
will be fewer jobs for fishers.
logging subsector should experience more favorable employment prospects
for the first time in many years. Though domestic timber producers
continue to face competition from foreign producers who can harvest the
same amount of timber at lower cost, foreign and domestic demand for new
wood products, such as wood pellets, is expected to result in some
employment growth. New policies allowing some access to Federal
timberland may result in some logging jobs, and Federal legislation
designed to prevent destructive wildfires by proactively thinning
forests in susceptible regions also may result in additional jobs.
The forestry subsector
is also projected to show an increase in wage and salary workers as
owners of forested lands are expected to hire people to plant and raise
timber stands. However, professionals in the forestry industry will
likely turn to self-employment as consultants.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.