Horticultural Specialty Farming: Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a horticultural specialty farmer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and continued education to find out if this is the career for you.

Farming can involve raising livestock or producing corn or wheat or other conventional crops, but some farmers prefer to focus on growing specialty products such as plants, nuts, fruit and organic foods. While farming has no minimum educational requirements, most specialty farmers have associate's degrees and are self-employed.

Essential Information

Horticultural specialty farmers grow unconventional vegetables, fruits, nuts and decorative plants for a targeted market. Some specialty farmers focus on organics, while others grow local delicacies. Specialty farming is a high-risk job, requiring careful business and agricultural management. Read on to learn more about the requirements of horticultural specialty farming.

Required Education Agricultural managers usually possess associate degrees, although there are no formal requirements for this career.
Other Requirements A Bachelor's degree in agriculture can be obtained to gain more knowledge in farm and land management
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -2% (for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers)
Median Salary (2015)* $64,170 (for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Options

Horticultural specialty farmers typically work on small-scale farms growing highly profitable plants and produce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 70% of farmers were self-employed in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Specialty farmers usually operate on their own farmland, planning crops and overseeing production. Individuals may choose a specialty depending on the climate, soil quality, land availability and personal interest.

Organic Farming

Individuals may choose to specialize in organic farming, one of the fastest-growing agricultural specialties in the U.S. according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic production methods use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, relying completely on natural products and pest control methods. The USDA regulates organic farming methods and requires farms to follow strict guidelines to obtain organic certification (www.usda.gov).

Fruit and Nut Farming

Fruit and nut farmers have a wide variety of production opportunities depending on their climate zone and land availability. Individuals may own and operate fruit orchards, grow grapes for a winery, produce nuts and berries for the market or grow olives for processing.

Nursery Operation

Specialty farmers may choose to own and operate a nursery. Plants grown in a nursery are meant to be sold and used in another location. Nurseries may specialize in growing fruit trees, vegetable plants, flowers or Christmas trees. Nurseries can sell their products through retail stores or directly to the public.

Career Requirements

Individuals must have extensive knowledge of the farming process, from soil preparation and planting to crop maintenance and harvesting. Specialty farmers usually work long, irregular hours at different times of the year. They must be able to perform all aspects of field work, and the job can be physically demanding. Depending on the size of the company, specialty farmers may want to hire and train employees. Business skills are needed to develop crop plans, manage workers and market produce to retail and the public.

Educational Requirements

No formal education is required to start a specialty farm, according to the BLS, but agricultural managers typically hold at least an associate's degree. A certificate or degree program focused on agriculture can teach individuals valuable information about different plants, soil, pests, production methods and management. Future specialty farmers can earn an undergraduate degree in horticulture, or take courses in a specialty such as organic agriculture. Some schools may require students to complete an internship on a farm. Participants in an agricultural internship gain hands-on farming experience, participating in fieldwork and learning the duties and responsibilities of running a farm.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

From 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 2% decline in jobs for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers. In 2015, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $64,170 for these workers. The highest level of employment, at that time, was found in support activities for crop production.

The risks are high in specialty farming, so most people who enter the sector seek a degree in agriculture or horticulture to help improve their chances of success. The working hours are long and varied, and physical labor is required much of the time, whether you're growing decorative plants, fruit, nuts or organic produce. The rate of self-employment is high among horticultural specialty farmers, but some larger operations do hire employees for extra assistance.

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