When I hear the word ‘farm,’ the song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” instantly starts playing in my head and I can’t help mooing and clucking along because, hey, that was my first childhood impression of farms – a place where happy farm animals lived.

During this time, with frequent news about travel restrictions and 14-day isolation periods for migrant farm workers, COVID-19 outbreaks at farms and processing plants, and other food supply challenges, it has never been clearer to me that farmers and farm workers are an essential land army, fighting to sustain our agriculture economy and protect our food security.

Perhaps it is time for me to learn about the skills required and important jobs performed by our hard-working farmers and farm workers.

What does it take to be a successful farmer, farm manager or supervisor?
According to Wikipedia, a farmer “is a person engaged in agriculture, raising living organisms for food or raw materials. The term usually applies to people who do some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards, poultry, or other livestock.”

To be a successful farmer, farm manager or farm supervisor, you need to be passionate about farming, have physical stamina , be self-motivated, and skilled at:

Farm operations – to perform day-to-day basic duties on the farm
Crop and animal management – to successfully grow crops and raise animals
Problem-solving – to figure out how to maximize production and deal with equipment
failures or climate-related challenges
Mechanics and technology – to repair farm machinery and use computer equipment
Time-management and organization – to ensure products are planted and
harvested at the optimum time and then transported, stored and delivered to consumers while still fresh
Communications and interpersonal effectiveness – to negotiate with buyers and supervise farm workers in completing daily tasks

Although many farmers gain hands-on experience on family farms, due to the complexity of
farming today, many farmers and ranchers pursue formal education and training. There are many universities across Canada that offer a wide range of agriculture disciplines ranging from animal and plant science to agro-environmental engineering and agribusiness.

Job descriptions for positions for farm managers and supervisors posted on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank indicate that responsibilities can include:
• Analyzing historical farm data and determining the amount and kinds of crops to be grown and livestock to be raised
• Purchasing machinery, livestock, seed, feed and other supplies
• Managing the overall operation of a farm
• Maintaining farm machinery, equipment and buildings
• Exploring and adopting new technologies
• Maintaining financial and production records
• Establishing marketing programs
• Recruiting, hiring and supervising staff
• Managing safety programs

Clearly, being a farmer or managing a farm requires a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience.

What type of work do farm workers do?
Reading over job descriptions for farm workers, it is clear that the job is physically demanding entailing a lot of walking, standing/sitting for extended periods of time, bending, lifting, crouching, and kneeling while performing repetitive tasks. The work generally involves long hours, early mornings and weekends, and workers must have the ability to complete daily tasks associated with planting, maintaining and harvesting crops, and animal husbandry in all weather conditions.

Depending on the type of farm, responsibilities may include preparing the soil, planting seeds, weeding, fertilizing and spraying crops, harvesting crops, pruning trees, sorting and packing fruits and vegetables, loading and unloading crates, and maintaining irrigation lines. Those who work in fisheries and on ranches can expect to feed and take care of fish, feed cattle or other livestock, milk cows, brand cattle, gather eggs, and shear sheep.

On some farms, workers are required to operate and maintain tractors and farm trucks and complex farm machinery including cultivators, plows, harrows, rock windrowers, subsoilers, rotators, fruit harvesters, combines, manure spreaders, seed drills, haying equipment and fertilizer applicators.

Scanning recent job postings for farm workers, there is a wide variety of jobs available including:

Vegetable packer
Grain farm labour
Beef cattle farm worker
Fruit farm labourer
Dairy farm foreman/woman
Greenhouse worker

Lots of opportunities available for those interested in farm work
There are currently many job opportunities in Canada’s agriculture industry. If you are interested in applying for farm work, the Farmwork to Feed Canada website has a great list of agriculture and agribusiness job boards.

To be successful, you will need a willingness to learn and the ability to work productively in a team with others. Most positions don’t require specific education or experience and many farmers are willing to train you to operate specialized equipment. However, any previous experience you have will make you a stronger candidate. Many of the job postings highlight that the employers welcome applications from newcomers to Canada, students, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, and seniors.

What a great opportunity to get paid while learning and getting hands-on experience developing new skills that could lead to a rewarding career in the agricultural industry!

I like to think of farmworkers and workers on the frontlines in food processing as heroes doing essential jobs to keep our nation fed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that I know a bit more about the demanding work and skills involved in being a farmer or farm worker, I am even more grateful for their commitment to ensure our food supply. Let’s take a moment to
acknowledge their contributions every time we sit down to eat.



[1] US Department of Labor Statistics – How to Become a Farmer, Rancher, or Other Agricultural Manager


Heather Mah

Heather Mah

Heather Mah is a Farmwork to Feed writer and a student in the Public Relations Program at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

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