Farm managers need to have technical and practical competence, as well as the ability to make sound business decisions

As a farm manager you'll usually work with either animal production, dairy or crop production, although it's possible that you'll work with all three. Livestock on farms tends to be pigs, cows or sheep, while crops can cover cereals, rapeseed oil, vegetables and salad. You'll implement strategies for maximum yield, organise farm administration, work machinery and manage any associated businesses and staff.

Farms are typically run by management companies or single-owner farmers and must satisfy regulations set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for safe, high-quality produce farmed in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Responsibilities

As a farm manager, you'll need to:

  • plan finances and production to maintain farm progress against budget parameters
  • undertake practical activities, such as driving tractors, operating machinery, feeding livestock or spraying fields
  • market the farm's products
  • buy supplies, such as fertiliser and seeds
  • arrange the maintenance and repair of farm buildings, machinery and equipment
  • plan activities for trainee staff, mentoring and monitoring them
  • maintain and monitor the quality of yield, whether livestock or crops
  • understand the implications of the weather and make contingency plans
  • make sure products are ready for deadlines, such as auctions and markets
  • ensure current government regulations concerning farm activities are complied with
  • ensure that farm activities comply with government regulations
  • monitor animal health and welfare, including liaising with vets
  • maintain a knowledge of pests and diseases and an understanding of how they spread and how to treat them
  • apply health and safety standards across the farm estate
  • protect the environment and maintaining biodiversity
  • keep financial records up to date.

Sometimes it's necessary to supplement farm income with other activities, which might include:

  • providing bed and breakfast or holiday lets
  • field sports and off-roading
  • wind power generation
  • speciality herds, such as llamas and alpacas
  • farm shops selling the farm's own and other locally-sourced produce
  • creating fishing lakes
  • horse trials, livery stables and riding schools
  • worm farming
  • processing their own products, e.g. vegetables or cold pressed oils.

Salary

  • Assistant or trainee farm managers may expect to start on salaries of £20,000 to £22,000.
  • Once the position of farm manager has been achieved, salaries are in the region of £23,000 to £35,000.
  • With significant experience of more than ten to 15 years, farm managers may earn over £50,000. In senior consultancy or advisory roles, pay may reach £70,000.

Salaries are usually dependent on experience and the size of the farm. Other benefits might include private health insurance, pension scheme, personal and/or a company performance bonus, being able to work from home occasionally, accommodation, a vehicle and a mobile phone.

Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You will be on call day and night, seven days a week. The work pattern is seasonally influenced, often with 16-hour days at busy times, such as harvesting and lambing. Seasonal labour can reduce the manager's direct involvement in the day-to-day work on the farm. It can also be possible to build up a management team with different people having advisory and consultancy input to lighten the load.

What to expect

  • The work may be highly stressful due to factors beyond your control. Fluctuations in market prices can make long-term forecasting difficult.
  • Although much of the work can be office based, work activities are also highly dependent on the weather.
  • You should be prepared for an element of isolation, although many farming communities have a strong social life.
  • Travel during the working day may occasionally be necessary. Where farming companies and growers have interests abroad there may be opportunities to work overseas.

Qualifications

Previous hands-on farming experience and technical knowledge are as important as academic qualifications, and some employers may appoint you on the basis of your experience alone.

However, a degree is greatly valued and most farm managers hold at least a degree or HND/foundation degree in agriculture or a related subject such as:

  • agricultural engineering
  • crop management
  • farm business management
  • horticulture
  • land/estate management.

Further study to MSc or PhD level in relevant areas is possible if you want to follow the academic route - but this usually leads to research or teaching posts, rather than farm management.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a knowledge of food production and an awareness of customer demand, food standards and sustainability
  • organisational and time-management skills
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • supervisory skills and management ability
  • numerical aptitude
  • willingness to be outside in all weathers and patience to undertake all sorts of practical, sometimes repetitive jobs
  • a full driving licence
  • self-motivation, with the ability to motivate others
  • larger-scale business awareness
  • marketing skills
  • negotiation skills
  • genuine commitment to farming
  • IT skills
  • good technical knowledge
  • a good understanding of modern farming methods
  • a commitment to animal welfare
  • an understanding of the ways in which farming impacts the environment.

Work experience

A significant amount of farming experience or work experience in agricultural practice is normally required before you can be appointed to a trainee management position. Having practical experience will make you stand out and will demonstrate your passion for the industry. This can be gained through a sandwich course, vacation work or a gap-year placement.

Organisations offering work experience and training schemes for students and new graduates include:

  • Farmcare - an arable crops, fruit farming and land management business
  • Velcourt - a farm management company, which runs a management training scheme, recruiting new graduates and enabling them to move into a career in farm and estate management
  • Management Development Services (MDS) - offering a scheme for graduates wishing to enter the fresh produce and arable industry, which includes secondments in the UK or overseas
  • Sentry Farms - a farming company accepting applications from those looking for trainee manager roles.

A useful organisation for arranging work experience abroad is the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Employers

You may find employment with the following:

  • large estates
  • agricultural colleges
  • scientific research institutes
  • the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • large food-producing companies
  • smaller farms
  • fresh produce companies
  • farm management companies.

Look for job vacancies at:

Some specialist recruitment agencies handle farm manager vacancies, including:

Professional development

If you enrol on a management trainee scheme, your training will be structured and comprehensive. In other situations, your training will mainly be carried out on the job.

Various external courses are available, which as well as helping with initial training aid continuing professional development (CPD). This is important in the agricultural industry as you need to stay up to date with legislation and developing technology.

Lantra, the Sector Skills council for the environmental and land-based sector, has details of regional and national courses that are relevant to farm management. They cover topics such as farm conservation, animal health and welfare, book keeping and tax and coaching for farming businesses. For more details, see Lantra CourseFinder.

The Environmental Stewardship Scheme provides funding, advice and information for farmers who are interested in effective environmental management of their land.

It also helps to become a member of a professional body, such as:

This will provide you with good networking opportunities as well as relevant events and conferences and trade press.

Career development

As a new entrant to farm management, you can expect to begin as an assistant or by managing an enterprise, such as a dairy unit. With experience, you can progress to more responsibility and management. Eventually, you could be responsible for overseeing the work of several farms, all specialising in different aspects of farming - a dairy herd, hill farm, potato production or poultry, for example.

Most farms are focused on a single activity so, in order to gain a broad range of experience, you may choose to move from one farm to another. Different areas of the country specialise in different types of production, as the climate and soil determine what grows best in a particular area.

A move into other areas may also be possible; this could be advisory work for government departments such as the DEFRA, or consultancy work where you'd give guidance and advice to farmers and managers. Lecturing on agriculture in further and higher education institutions is another option.

There are also opportunities for farm managers and assistant farm managers with experience and an appropriate higher-level qualification to work in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Canada and Europe, and also in Russia as opportunities develop. Work in developing countries can be arranged through Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).