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Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

Significant Points

* Although farms generating over $250,000 per year in sales make up less than 10 percent of all farms, they supply three-quarters of all agricultural output.
* Self-employed workers—mostly farmers and fishers—account for 39 percent of the industry’s workforce.
* Employment in agriculture, forestry, and fishing is projected to have little or no change.

Nature of the Industry

The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry sector plays a vital role in our economy and our lives. It supplies us and many other countries with a wide variety of food products and non-food products such as fibers, lumber, and nursery items. It contributes positively to our foreign trade balance and it remains one of the Nation’s larger industries in terms of total employment. However, technology continues to enable us to produce more of these products with fewer workers, resulting in fewer farms and farm workers.

Goods and services

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing includes two large subsectors—crop production and animal production—plus three smaller subsectors—forestry and logging, fishing, and agricultural support activities. Crop production includes farms that mainly grow crops used for food and fiber, while animal production includes farms and ranches that raise animals for sale or for animal products. The fishing subsector includes mainly fishers that catch fish and shellfish to sell, while the forestry and logging subsector includes establishments that grow, harvest, and sell timber. The agricultural support activities subsector includes establishments that perform any number of agricultural-related activities, such as soil preparation, planting, harvesting, or management on a contract or fee basis.

Establishments in agriculture, forestry, and fishing include farms, ranches, dairies, greenhouses, nurseries, orchards, and hatcheries. The operators, or people who run these agricultural businesses, typically either own the land in production or they lease the land from the owner. But production may also take place in the country’s natural habitats and on government-owned lands and waterways, as in the case of logging, cattle-grazing, and fishing.

The vast majority of farms, ranches, and fishing companies are small enterprises, owned and operated by families as their primary or secondary source of income. Although large family farms and corporate farms comprise less than 10 percent of the establishments in the industry, they produce three-fourths of all agricultural output. Increasingly, these large farms are being operated for the benefit of large agribusiness firms, which buy most of the product.

Industry organization

Agricultural production is the major activity of this industry sector and it consists of two large subsectors, animal production and crop production. Animal production includes establishments that raise livestock, such as beef cattle, poultry, sheep, and hogs; farms that employ animals to produce products, such as dairies, egg farms, and apiaries (bee farms that produce honey); and animal specialty farms, such as horse farms and aquaculture (fish farms). Crop production includes the growing of grains, such as wheat, corn, and barley; field crops, such as cotton and tobacco; vegetables and melons; fruits and nuts; and horticultural specialties, such as flowers and ornamental plants. Of course, many farms have both crops and livestock, such as those that grow their own animal feed, or have diverse enterprises.

The nature of agricultural work varies, depending on the crops grown, animals being raised, and the size of the farm. Although much of the work is now highly mechanized, large numbers of people still are needed to plant and harvest some crops on the larger farms. During the planting, growing, and harvesting seasons, farmers and their employees are busy for long hours, executing such activities as plowing, disking, harrowing, seeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Vegetables generally are still harvested manually by groups of migrant farmworkers, although new machines have been developed to replace manual labor for some fruit crops. Vegetable growers on large farms of approximately 100 acres or more usually practice “monoculture,” large-scale cultivation of one crop on each division of land. Fieldwork on large grain farms—consisting of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of acres—often is done using modern agricultural equipment, such as massive tractors controlled by global positioning system (GPS) technology.

Production of some types of crops and livestock tends to be concentrated in particular regions of the country based on growing conditions and topography. Poultry and dairy farms tend to be found in most areas of the country. Most poultry and egg farms are large operations resembling production lines. Although free-range farms allow fowl some time outside during the day for exercise and sunlight, most poultry production involves mainly indoor work, with workers repeatedly performing a limited number of specific tasks. Because of increased mechanization, poultry growers can raise chickens by the thousands—sometimes by the hundreds of thousands—under one roof. Although eggs still are collected manually in some small-scale hatcheries, eggs tumble down onto conveyor belts in larger hatcheries. Machines then wash, sort, and pack the eggs into individual cartons. Workers place the cartons into boxes and stack the boxes onto pallets for shipment.

Aquaculture farmers raise fish and shellfish in salt, brackish, or fresh water, depending on the requirements of the particular species. Small fish farms usually use ponds, floating net pens, raceways, or recirculating systems, but larger fish farms are actually in the sea, relatively close to shore. Workers on aquaculture farms stock, feed, protect, and otherwise manage aquatic life to be sold for consumption or used for recreational fishing.

Horticulture farms raise ornamental plants, bulbs, shrubbery, sod, and flowers. Although much of the work takes place outdoors, in colder climates, substantial production also takes place in greenhouses or hothouses. The work can be year-round on such farms.

Workers employed in the forestry and logging subsector grow and harvest timber on a long production cycle of 10 years or more, and specialize in different stages of the production cycle. Those engaged in reforestation handle seedlings in specialized nurseries. Workers in timber production remove diseased or damaged trees from timberland, as well as brush and debris that could pose a fire hazard. Besides commercial timberland, they may also work in natural forests or other suitable areas of land that remain available for production over a long duration. Logging workers harvest timber, which becomes lumber for construction, wood products, or paper products. They cut down trees, remove their tops and branches, and cut their trunks into logs of specified length. They usually use a variety of specialized machinery to move logs to loading areas and load them on trucks for transport to papermills and sawmills.

People employed in the fishing subsector harvest fish and shellfish from their natural habitat in fresh water and in tidal areas and the ocean, and their livelihood depends on a naturally replenishing supply of fish, lobster, shellfish, or other edible marine life. Some full-time and many part-time fishers work on small boats in relatively shallow waters, often in sight of land. Crews are small—usually only one or two people collaborate on all aspects of the fishing operation. Others fish hundreds of miles offshore on large commercial fishing vessels. Navigation and communication are essential for the safety of all of those who work on the water, but particularly for those who work far from shore. Large boats, capable of hauling a catch of tens of thousands of pounds of fish, require a crew that includes a captain, or “skipper,” a first mate and sometimes a second mate, a boatswain (called a deckboss on some smaller boats), and deckhands to operate the fishing gear, sort and load the catch when it is brought to the deck, and aid in the general operation of the vessel.

The final subsector of agriculture, forestry, and fishing includes companies that provide agricultural support services to establishments in the other subsectors. On farms that primarily grow crops, these activities may include farm management services, soil preparation, planting and cultivating services, as well as crop harvesting and post-harvesting services. Other support services companies provide aerial dusting and spraying of pesticides over a large number of acres. They may also perform post-harvesting tasks to prepare crops for market, including shelling, fumigating, cleaning, grading, grinding, and packaging agricultural products. Typically, such support services are provided to the larger farms that are run more like businesses. As farms get larger, it becomes more economical as well as necessary to hire specialists to perform a range of farm services, from pest management to animal breeding. Establishments providing farm management services manage farms on a contract or fee basis. As more farms are owned by absentee landowners and corporations, farm managers are being hired to run the farms. They make decisions about planting and harvesting, and they do most of the hiring of farmworkers and specialists.

The agricultural support services subsector also includes farm labor contractors who specialize in supplying labor for agricultural production. Farm labor contractors provide and manage temporary farm laborers—often migrant workers—who usually work during peak harvesting times. Contractors may place bids with farmers to harvest labor-intensive crops such as fruit, nuts, and vegetables or perform other short-term tasks. Once the bid is accepted, the contractor, or crew leader, organizes and supervises the laborers as they harvest, load, move, and store the crops.

Establishments that supply support activities for animal production perform services that may include breeding, pedigree record services, boarding horses, livestock spraying, and sheep dipping and shearing. Workers in establishments providing breeding services monitor herd condition and nutrition, evaluate the quality and quantity of forage, recommend adjustments to feeding when necessary, identify the best cattle or other livestock for breeding and calving, advise on livestock pedigrees, inseminate cattle artificially, and feed and care for sires.

Source: bls.gov, lifesciencesearch.com, fiordland.org.nz, oklahomafarmreport.com, ars.usda.gov, water-sos.org, lubavitch.com, research4development.info

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Veterinarians

Significant Points

* Veterinarians should have an affinity for animals and the ability to get along with their owners.
* Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a State license are required.
* Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen; however, graduates should have excellent job opportunities.
* About 3 out of 4 veterinarians work in private practice.

Nature of the Work

Veterinarians care for the health of pets, livestock, and animals in zoos, racetracks, and laboratories. Some veterinarians use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening our knowledge of animals and medical science, and in applied research, developing new ways to use knowledge.

Most veterinarians diagnose animal health problems; vaccinate against diseases, such as distemper and rabies; medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses; treat and dress wounds; set fractures; perform surgery; and advise owners about animal feeding, behavior, and breeding.

According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, more than 70 percent of veterinarians who work in private medical practices predominately, or exclusively, treat small animals. Small-animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as dogs and cats, but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, ferrets, and other animals that can be kept as pets. About one-fourth of all veterinarians work in mixed animal practices, where they see pigs, goats, cattle, sheep, and some wild animals in addition to companion animals.

A small number of private-practice veterinarians work exclusively with large animals, mostly horses or cattle; some also care for various kinds of food animals. These veterinarians usually drive to farms or ranches to provide veterinary services for herds or individual animals. Much of this work involves preventive care to maintain the health of the animals. These veterinarians test for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm or ranch owners and managers regarding animal production, feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery, including cesarean sections on birthing animals. Other veterinarians care for zoo, aquarium, or laboratory animals. Veterinarians of all types euthanize animals when necessary.

Veterinarians who treat animals use medical equipment such as stethoscopes, surgical instruments, and diagnostic equipment, including radiographic and ultrasound equipment. Veterinarians working in research use a full range of sophisticated laboratory equipment.

Veterinarians contribute to human as well as animal health. A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems. For example, veterinarians contributed greatly in conquering malaria and yellow fever, solved the mystery of botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart disease, and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip and knee joint replacements and limb and organ transplants. Today, some determine the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques by testing them on animals.

Some veterinarians are involved in food safety and inspection. Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors, for example, check animals for transmissible diseases, such as E. coli, advise owners on the treatment of their animals, and may quarantine animals. Veterinarians who are meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation. More veterinarians are finding opportunities in food security as they ensure that the Nation has abundant and safe food supplies. Veterinarians involved in food security often work along the Nation’s borders as animal and plant health inspectors, where they examine imports and exports of animal products to prevent disease here and in foreign countries. Many of these workers are employed by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service division.

Work Environment

Veterinarians in private or clinical practice often work long hours in a noisy indoor environment. Sometimes they have to deal with emotional or demanding pet owners. When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, or scratched.

Veterinarians in large-animal practice spend time driving between their office and farms or ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to treat animals or perform surgery, under unsanitary conditions.

Veterinarians working in nonclinical areas, such as public health and research, have working conditions similar to those of other professionals in those lines of work. These veterinarians enjoy clean, well-lit offices or laboratories and spend much of their time dealing with people rather than animals.

Veterinarians often work long hours. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; solo practitioners may work extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected appointments.

Source: bls.gov, collegecrunch.org, nymag.com, militarytimesedge.com, guardian.co.uk, cheetah.org.

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