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How to Become a Farmer

Food - you’d be hard-pressed finding someone who doesn’t like some variation of food. The agriculture industry continues to blossom and adapt under changing environmental restrictions and produce demand; Australia’s farmers are a staple to the economy.
Farm with greenery

With 20.1 per cent of the Australian farm workforce being located in Victoria, there’s a clear incentive to study agriculture and various options to choose from. If you’re considering this career path, you may be asking questions about the requirements, courses and opportunities available to you. This article will cover all that and more in helping you take the first steps towards a career in agriculture.

specialist in farming

Why choose a career in agriculture?

Agriculture is a growth industry, quite literally, no pun intended. With a growth of 2.8 per cent in 30 years and a current workforce of 1.6 million jobs in Australia, the agricultural industry accounts for 93 per cent of the Australian food supply; that’s a lot of mouths to feed! With conversations on the environment rising in popularity and an increasing population, agriculture is an industry that attracts attention and funding to keep up with political and social trends. The world’s population is estimated to increase to 9.6 billion over the next 35 years, so the demand for food production will only go up!

The agricultural industry is also an excellent leader for increased gender diversity, with 25 per cent of the current workforce recorded as women. Agriculture also stimulates technological growth and entrepreneurship in the Australian economy through demand for a faster, more ethical food supply. Added benefits of a career in agriculture are the clear connections to a quieter, more reclusive lifestyle away from the city. Still, options are available if you’re attached to city-living, with various farms operating in more urban areas.

How many kinds of farmers are there?

A qualification in agriculture opens you up to various options in terms of farming, produce and location. This diversity allows you the confidence in being able to pursue an area relevant to your interests and location requirements. Some farms may include:

  • Dairy farms
    Farms that specialise in raising any combination of dairy cows, sheep or goats to produce milk products. Dairy farms are a strong industry, with more than 9102 million litres of milk produced per year in Australia.

  • Livestock farms
    A farm that generally breeds livestock such as cows and sheep; managing their health, nutrition and hydration

  • Commercial farms
    These farms focus on the growth of purely commercial produce intended for large-scale production and sale.

  • Hay farms
    These farms focus on crops for livestock feed.

  • Fibre farms
    These farms focus on production for the textile industry and can include farming wool, cotton, mohair or alpaca fleece, and cotton growing. The wool industry alone in Australia is worth more than 3 billion dollars!

  • Poultry farms
    These farms breed and farm bird livestock, including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. These farms produce meat or eggs.

  • Pig farms
    These farms are entirely focused on pork products and have various options when running, including free-range, intensive, or combining the two.

  • Aquaculture
    These farms focus on the mass production of either saltwater or freshwater crops, which may consist of oysters, clams, mussels or various types of fish.

  • Rice farms
    Also called paddy-field farming, rice farms produce rice which is a popular staple food.

  • U-Pick farms
    Known as “You-Pick”, these farms allow tourists and visitors to harvest their pick of produce, a notable example being the Portland strawberry farm.

  • Vineyards
    A farm that specialises in grapes which are then harvested for wine.

  • Orchards
    Farms that grow fruit or nut-bearing trees and shrubs.

  • Organic farms
    Farms that aim to remove synthetic products from the farming process and instead opt for natural pesticides and fertilisers to grow organic produce.

  • Flower farms
    Mass-production of flower crops for use in florist businesses.

  • Apiaries
    Also known as “bee yards”, apiaries specialise in honey bees and can be established in rural and urban areas.

  • Micro farms
    These are small-scale farms generally located in urban areas, focusing on high-yield crops in minimal space.

Australia has more than 135,000 farms and an absurd amount of options to choose from; this is a career where there’s something for everyone, and best of all, it pays well for the Australian economy. The Australian agriculture industry is a significant exporter, with more than 60 per cent of our products being sold to other countries. So…

chickens free range on a farm

What does it take to be a farmer?

With a stable industry record and only a potential for further growth, you may be set on pursuing a career in agriculture. Still, first, it’s important to self-evaluate and figure out if this area is the right one for you. An easy, grassroots way to determine what kind of mentality and skills you’ll need to pursue a job in farming is to talk to someone in the industry; learning from their experience and understanding any difficulties they've faced, such as saving/regulating water during droughts. This can also be a beneficial undertaking, as you may decide you want to do some volunteer work to get a feel for the industry. Talking to an expert in the field can also go hand-in-hand with selecting a farming type that interests you most and pursuing further information.

Skills needed to work on a farm

Completing a course in agriculture will help set you up with the skills and knowledge to pursue a career in farming. It will also form a basis for further learning, with farmers always being encouraged to seek continued education on relevant topics and ensure that they’re up to date with the standards and requirements of their profession.

Picking an agriculture course

When picking an agriculture course with your selected TAFE, you should consider factors such as your own goals, desires, and work placement availability or traineeships. There are various qualification levels in agriculture and different specialised areas and courses such as dairy production. 

Picking an agriculture course can be made more accessible by discussing with the South West TAFE careers coaches at the Skills and Jobs Centre, who can assist you in looking at your options and the career pathways open to you.

At a minimum, a Certificate II will set you up with the essential information you need to pursue a career as a farmhand.

aerial view of agricultural field with farm worker

TAFE agriculture courses

  • Certificate II in Agriculture
    This course is run part-time on Thursdays for 12 months, with commencement available at any time. Students will learn agricultural equipment maintenance, livestock management, and first aid, amongst various other skills. This course will set you up with the skills for a job as a farmhand. Upon completing your Certificate II in Agriculture, you may consider further education into a Certificate III in Agriculture with an optional specialisation in Dairy Production. This course is also offered as a traineeship.

  • Certificate III in Agriculture
    This course is run part-time on Thursdays or Mondays for two years, with applications accepted at any time. Students will learn management techniques and various practical tasks relating to animal handling and health. This course will set you up for potential employment as a farmhand or livestock transport driver. Upon completing this course, you can continue studying for a Certificate IV in Agriculture or a Diploma of Agriculture. Requirements for entry are employment in the agriculture industry before commencement. This course is also offered as a traineeship.

  • Certificate III in Agriculture (Dairy Production)
    This course is run the same as the Certificate III in Agriculture. It includes a specialisation in Dairy Production, expanding learning objectives into study areas such as milking operations and rearing newborn livestock. This course opens up career options in the dairy industry. This course is also offered as a traineeship.

  • Certificate IV in Agriculture
    This course is run part-time on Tuesdays at Colac or Wednesdays for two years, with commencement available at any time. Students will learn leadership skills, staff supervision and plant operation. This course will set you up with the skills for a job as a farm team leader or manager. Upon completing your Certificate IV in Agriculture, you may consider further education into a Diploma of Agriculture. Requirements for entry are employment in the agriculture industry. This course is also offered as a traineeship.

  • Diploma of Agriculture
    This course is run full-time on Fridays for two years, with applications accepted at any time. Students will participate in on-campus and on-farm workshops with industry experts with focuses including plant nutrition and pest management. This course will set you up for potential employment as a farm owner or agronomist, amongst other pathways. Upon completing this course, you can continue studying further in agribusiness.

Requirements for entry are a VCE or equivalent qualification or relevant experience such as two years of farm work, a certificate qualification or higher or current involvement in the agricultural industry.

Next steps after an agriculture course 

After you’ve completed your selected agriculture course, there are various pathways open to you. Not only will you have an improved skill set applicable to a broad selection of careers, but you will also be able to pursue further education in agriculture or agribusiness.

Depending on your qualification, you may consider work experience or an entry-level position at a farm relevant to your area of interest. You’ll need to develop your resume to suit your desired career. If you’re missing the previous work experience required, you can consider the applicability and crossover between your work history and farm work.

The South West TAFE Skills and Job Centre also offers resume support services and interview advice.

Getting hands-on farming experience

Following your qualification, you may consider getting some work experience. Alternatively, you may be in the early days of your journey and looking to understand better whether you’re a good fit for an agriculture career. The entry-level position for agriculture is generally as a farmhand, where you can expect to earn around $46,633 per annum, according to PayScale. 

Working as a farmhand can involve a variety of duties and tasks such as soil cultivation, weed control, chemical spraying and livestock care to name a few. There are various subcategories for farmhand work, including dairy, fruit and vegetable, piggery, poultry, sheep, or cattle. These areas can all entail extra tasks or focuses relevant to the crops/livestock maintained. 

The best way to pursue hands-on farming work is to put yourself out there by applying and getting into contact with farm owners to scope out employment opportunities. 

Farming is hands-on work, with significant returns available to those who choose to pursue it financially and lifestyle-wise. As long as you have the right attitude, TAFE and further learning can set you up with skills and qualifications to jump into the agricultural industry.