Green Jobs: what does a Farm Manager do?

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8 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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A Farm Manager is at the heart of all farming production, leading operations in various areas from animal production to dairy and crop farming. They can be their own business leaders but can also manage a farm for another organisation. They will often work with the owner of the farm, or other Farm Managers and Farm Management Consultants.

There are two types of farms that Farm Managers can work on – arable and mixed. An arable farm means that crops are grown there for humans and animals alike. These can include cereals, fruits, and vegetables. A mixed farm will involve undertaking arable as well as livestock farming.

Developments in technology have meant that farmers might increasingly work with precision agriculture, which uses a range of tools including satellite crop monitoring of the health of fields, agricultural drones and sensors, field intervention tools, and automated driving technology for tractors and agricultural machines. New and improved technologies are allowing farmers to emit less greenhouse gases and have higher productivity, and Farm Managers are key to ensuring the food we eat is as sustainably sourced as possible.

As Sam Parsons, an Estate Manager at Balcaskie Estate in Fife, Scotland tells us:

“I’m lucky to be based at Balcaskie (a modern working estate with around 2000ha of mixed farmland with an emphasis on organic) because the overall objectives of our farming is indelibly linked with sustainable, regenerative farming.

“[…] However, I think that any farm manager can work towards this by balancing the business objectives of their work with their own skills and networks: using the tools at their disposal to transform the outcome.

“For example, agri-environmental schemes (that support farming through the subsidy system) can deliver both an income and a green outcome. They can be used to improve farming techniques for both the environment and yield in a way that meets everyone’s needs.

“As a manager you have to work towards both goals in a complementary way. When you’re able to do this in line with your own passions is when the job is at its most rewarding.”

What are the job responsibilities?

  • Driving tractors, knowing how to use all technology on the farm
  • Purchasing fertilisers and seeds for crop growth
  • Making financial and production plans, allowing for ways to improve the farming operations which stick to the farm’s budget
  • Having a significant understanding on pests and diseases that frequently appear on the farm and know how you might tackle them
  • Making sure farm activities follow correct government regulations (usually set by DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
  • Selling produce to food retail stores, including supermarkets and local food suppliers
  • Selling the farm’s goods to retailers and food producers
  • Implementing more sustainable ways of farming, which ensure preservation of biodiversity

Who might your employers be?

While a Farm Manager’s employer might typically be expected to work within a large farming estate or smaller farm, employment can also be found in other environments such as agricultural colleges, research institutes, farm management services such as Sentry Ltd and Savills, governmental bodies like DEFRA and with large food producers, and organic food organisations such as Planet Organic.

What qualifications do you need?

The most important qualification to have under your belt to be a Farm Manager is work experience. Any practical experience on a farm as well as technical comprehension will be what employers look for in an application.

Some places across the UK which offer work experience include:

– WWOOF UK and WWOOF connects people with organic farmers for work experience both in the UK and abroad. WWOOF UK can bring volunteers to 404 organic host farms in the country. The organisation aims to promote organic and sustainable forms of agriculture.

– Velcourt are a group of international farm management bodies, agronomists and dairy advisors, who offer a management training programme for recent graduates.

It’s worth looking at farms across the UK to see if they offer work experience. Some that currently offer opportunities include Forty Hall Farm in the outskirts of London, and Farmer Grow’s in Oxfordshire, who deliver training mainly to school students, but offer support and work in the summer, Christmas, and Easter months for University students.

As well as experience, most farm managers enter the role with a degree or Higher National Diploma (HND)/foundation degree in an agricultural topic such as: farm business management, land management, or agricultural engineering. Some Farm Managers also take on further education level qualifications like MScs or PhDs, but this is usually only required if you want to work in the higher education sector.

It is worth noting though, that no specific qualifications are obligatory to have for this career path. As Sam says: “You can enter the profession in so many ways and from so many levels. You don’t necessarily need a formal qualification as there’s the opportunity to learn as you go – through CPD and off-farm too.

He adds: “You have to understand that all the knowledge you’ll value doesn’t come through a standard (college/agronomy) route. Sometimes the most useful information comes in a less orthodox way.

Sam also emphasises the importance of learning about soil health: “If you learn how to manage soil, everything else will follow. I only got my head around this when I had an expert come to do a study on soil health. If I’d known about that approach from the start, I’d have saved myself a great deal of time and grief.”

What is the salary like?

To get into this role, it is likely you will start out as an assistant or trainee farm manager. This starting salary can be expected to be between £20,000 and £22,000. Once you reach a Manager level, you can expect your salary to increase to around £23-£35,000 for the first decade in the role. With even more years of experience under your belt, you can expect the salary to increase to £50,000.

Where will you be working?

The job entails a mixture of working outdoors on the farm in any weather, as well as completing office-based tasks like paperwork.

Your working schedule is very much dependant on the seasons. For example, if it’s harvest season, you can expect to be on call for a lot longer. It is very likely that a Farm Manager will be on call most days of the week.

The ratio of outdoor to indoor work is also related to the size of the farm. A smaller scale farm tends to mean there is more work to be done outdoors, including operating machinery and feeding the animals, while a larger-scale farm will involve more paperwork indoors.

What’s the career progression like?

You can expect to enter this role as a trainee assistant, or by managing a specific section of the farm such as arable crops, and then working your way up. If you enter this role on a management trainee scheme, you will likely receive fairly in-depth training with your employer. Other forms of continuing professional development (CPD) are also available through external courses which can be found across the UK. One important source to look into for these courses is Lantra, which is one of the leading organisations for land-based industries in the UK and Ireland.

Becoming a part of a professional body such as the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) or the National Farmers Union can also be beneficial. The Institute of Agricultural Management, or IAgrM, tend to offer various training programs about Farm Management Skills and Leadership Development.

Working in this role also offers the opportunity to travel abroad with the correct education and work experience. It can take you to farms in Canada, Australia and Africa.

Other ways to progress in this role include looking for advisory positions with the national government in organisations like DEFRA, or food consultancies where you can advise other farmers.

There is a huge potential for progression in the role of a Farm Manager according to Sam:

“Farms come in all shapes and sizes so the opportunities are wide. You have to seek out your own style of farming in line with your interests and find your own community. The right place will follow.

“It’s also easy to move up the ladder as there’s a shortage of really good people.

“When you chat to people about what they want from their work, they so often cite the desire to work outdoors in nature; to work autonomously; and in a varied unrepetitive role. This job ticks the boxes on all counts!

Is there demand for this job?

Farm Managers are key to getting the food we eat. Without them, we would struggle to access the same variety of fruit, vegetables and protein that we’re used to in the average food shop. Over the past two years, the farming industry has witnessed a drastic reduction in the availability of farm workers due to Brexit, and also due to the lack of people in Britain going into the farming industry. Recent reports state that around 500,000 more farm workers are currently needed in the UK. Without the right people in the industry, we won’t see any positive, greener changes made to how our food is produced.

Find out more about green careers in the food and drinks industry at Food Matters Careers.

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