Farm managers tend to work in either animal production, dairy or crop production although some do work with all three. Livestock on farms tends to be pigs, cows or sheep, while crops can cover cereals, oilseed rape, vegetables and salad.

The job is varied and includes planning strategies for maximum yield, organising farm administration, working machinery, organising associated businesses and managing staff.

Farm managers need to have technical and practical competence, as well as the ability to make sound business decisions. Farms are typically run by management companies or single-owner farmers.

Farm managers must appreciate the need to 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

Farm managers are responsible for planning, organising and managing the activities of a farm. Specific tasks may vary depending on the type of farm but in general include:

  • planning finances and production to maintain farm progress against budget parameters;
  • practical activities, e.g. driving tractors, operating machinery, feeding livestock, spraying fields, etc;
  • marketing the farm's products;
  • buying supplies, such as fertiliser and seeds;
  • arranging the maintenance and repair of farm buildings, machinery and equipment;
  • planning activities for trainee staff, mentoring and monitoring them;
  • maintaining and monitoring the quality of yield, whether livestock or crops;
  • understanding the implications of the weather and making contingency plans;
  • making sure products are ready for deadlines, such as auctions and markets;
  • ensuring current government regulations concerning farm activities are complied with;
  • ensuring that farm activities comply with government regulations;
  • monitoring animal health and welfare, including liaising with vets;
  • maintaining a knowledge of pests and diseases and an understanding of how they spread and how to treat them;
  • applying health and safety standards across the farm estate;
  • protecting the environment and maintaining biodiversity;
  • keeping financial records up to date.

Many farmers are now diversifying their activities to supplement their income. Supplementary activities may 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 can include farm produce, private health insurance, pension scheme, personal and or/company performance bonus, being able to work from home occasionally, accommodation, a vehicle and a mobile phone.

Income data from the Farmers Weekly 2015 pay can careers survey, in association with De Lacy Executive. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Farm managers are 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 the farm manager's 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 candidates on the basis of their 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:

  • knowledge of food production;
  • organisational and time management skills;
  • 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;
  • full driving licence;
  • self-motivation and the ability to motivate others;
  • larger-scale business awareness;
  • marketing skills;
  • negotiation skills;
  • genuine commitment to farming;
  • IT skills;
  • good technical knowledge.

Farm managers need to have a good understanding of modern farming methods, a commitment to animal welfare and an interest in, and understanding of, the ways in which farming impacts the environment. An awareness of customer demand, food standards and sustainability are also all important.

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): offers a scheme for graduates wishing to enter the fresh produce and arable industry, which includes secondments in the UK or overseas.
  • Sentry Farms: accepts 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

A range of organisations employ farm managers, including:

  • 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.

Sometimes, one farmer may own several farms and have managers in charge of running individual units or enterprises.

Look for job vacancies at:

Higher education institutions advertise employment opportunities for graduates on their careers service websites.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Some employers recruit new entrants onto management trainee schemes and in these instances, training is structured and comprehensive. In other situations, training may be carried out on the job as you are working.

Various external courses are available, which as well as helping with initial training, also 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 the:

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

Career development

New entrants to farm management can expect to begin as an assistant or by managing an enterprise, such as a dairy unit. After that, experience can progress to more responsibility and management.

Most farms now are focused on a single activity so, in order to gain a broad range of experience, a farm manager may 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.

At the top end of the job, a farm manager 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.

With experience, a farm manager may move into other areas, such as advisory work for government departments such as the DEFRA or consultancy work, where they give guidance and advice to farmers and managers. Some go into lecturing on agriculture in further and higher education.

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).