These days, farming in the U.S. is bigger, more complex and more business-centric than ever before. While small family farms have received a bit of a boost from the recent farm-to-table movement, most food in America is produced on large-scale farms that benefit at least as much from business management advice as from daily weather reports.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), farm business management agents do not plant, harvest or perform any of the other manual labor typically associated with traditional farmers and farm workers. The responsibilities of a business management agent on a farm run more along the lines of hiring and supervising workers, monitoring production and sales efforts, overseeing property and equipment maintenance and constructing systems of financial parameters for the various farm departments to follow.
The proper educational background and training is fundamental to success as a farm business management agent. A degree in business management, business administration, economics, marketing and agricultural law is extremely helpful, and the most successful also bring a strong foundation of basic farming knowledge to the profession.
Farm Business Management Salary
Agribusiness salaries tend to fluctuate with the various agricultural markets, making them difficult to estimate. Data collected by the BLS indicates that the mean annual wage for farm business management agents was $73,210 in 2013, but the salary range in the field was quite large. The top 10 percent of salaries in 2013 came in at $119,530 or above, while the bottom 10 percent of earners the same year made $33,840 or less.
Education level, experience, geographical location and affiliated industry all tend to have a significant effect on farm business management agent salary expectations. Here's a rundown of a few states in which professionals with farm business management training earned the most in 2013, according to the BLS, along with the mean annual wage reported in each state that year:
- California: $93,630
- New York: $92,950
- Pennsylvania: $83,670
- Wisconsin: $83,380
- Florida: $75,960
One of the best ways to get the most out of your salary is to look into which states offer the most affordable cost of living relative to your pay. California and New York, for example, rank among the top five least affordable states in June 2014, according to state-by-state data collected for the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index (COLI). Here's where other high-paying states for farm business management agents ranked in terms of living costs:
- Pennsylvania: 32nd most affordable
- Wisconsin: 24th most affordable
- Florida: 25th most affordable
Here are a few sleeper hit locations for farm business management agents, according to BLS and COLI data:
- Boise City, ID: $71,760 mean annual salary; 3rd most affordable state
- Jonesboro, AR: $70,070 mean annual salary; 7th most affordable state
- Lexington-Fayette, KY: $67,100 mean annual salary; 8th most affordable state
Perhaps the greatest farm management salary driver of all, however, is education; formal training can open doors to positions with larger, better-paying agribusiness firms.
Career Outlook for Farm Business Management Agents
While the farming industry as a whole is facing a bit of a slump, farm business management agents with strong skill sets and degrees from prominent schools should still face decent employment prospects. According to the BLS, the agricultural management profession is expected to lose about 180,000 positions overall between 2012 and 2022, but some areas of the country show regional increases in small-scale, local farms, particularly those specializing in organic goods, which may drive pockets of job growth in certain areas.
The BLS notes that while many farm managers learn on the job, employers increasingly prefer to hire those with two- or four-year degrees from farm business management agent schools. A number of colleges and universities in the country may offer hybrid programs for aspiring farm business management agents, combining both traditional and online courses to better fit each student's schedule.