Crop and Livestock Producer

As a crop and livestock producer, you are an agricultural practitioner who works for or owns operations that grow crops, raises livestock, or both. You direct operations for animal breeding, feeding, and health, most commonly for cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. Part of your responsibilities is to pay close attention to the impact your operations have on the environment, for example keeping waterways clear of animal waste. Crop farming also requires environmental stewardship, particularly when it comes to conservation of soil and water and the use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. In order to keep the businesses going year after year, you maintain a keen interest in sustainable agriculture and sound environmental practices.

At a Glance

Imagine it is early in the morning and the sky is still dark, but you have already had your breakfast and are stepping out the door to go to work. You are a crop and livestock producer and your mornings always begin this early at this time of year. You hop in your truck and head over to your corrals to begin the morning's chores of forking hay and spreading buckets of grain for the cows to eat. After the animals are fed, you will drive out to check the fields. This is springtime and you are anxiously waiting for conditions to be right to start seeding.

As a crop and livestock producer, you must weigh a number of factors when making decisions about seeding your crops. First, you need to decide which crops to plant in what field. You check records of what has been planted in each field in years past to give you an idea of what state the soil will be in since different crops remove different amounts of nutrients from the soil. You also consult with local agronomists on crop varieties and soil conditions. With an idea of what the soil will support, you can decide what crop to plant. Now you must decide when to plant. This is a tricky decision given Canada's short growing season: you don't want to plant too early or too late. You carefully follow the weather forecasts each day so you'll know when the ground begins to warm up and there isn't as much frost at night.

This is important because if conditions are too cold, your seed won't germinate. You also have to make certain the soil's moisture content is just right. If the soil is too wet or dry, your seed won't germinate either. At this time of year, you keep a keen eye on all kinds of environmental conditions to help make critical decisions and get your year started on the right track.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a crop and livestock producer:

  • Determine the crops and varieties to be grown on each section of land.
  • Choose breeds and breeding animals to add to livestock herds
  • Market and sell crop and livestock products.
  • Hire, train, and supervise workers engaged in seeding, cultivating, and harvesting crops or raising livestock.
  • Service, maintain and operate heavy machinery, implements, and other farm equipment.
  • Haul crops and livestock.
  • Repair and maintain buildings and facilities.
  • Water, feed, and in some cases milk livestock and maintain herd health.
  • Inspect growing environments to maintain optimum growing conditions.
  • Attend farm meetings and research new crop and livestock production methods.

Work Environment

Crop and livestock producers work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the field:

  • Caring for livestock, including feeding animals, cleaning pens and cages, and treating illnesses and injuries
  • Operating implements and machinery, for example, seeders, sprayers, hay bines, balers, swathers, and combines
  • Inspecting and testing crops and soils
  • Maintaining and servicing equipment

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and evaluating production reports and sales results
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with colleagues, suppliers, and buyers
  • Researching new equipment and technology

Where to Work

There are a number of places crop and livestock producers can find employment. They include:

  • Farms and farming cooperatives
  • Agriculture and food processing research and development firms
  • Agricultural chemical or fertilizer companies

Education and Skills

Often times, there is no education requirement to become a crop and livestock producer. If you are considering taking post-secondary courses to become a crop and livestock producer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Agriculture
  • Agronomy
  • Soil science
  • Horticulture
  • Biology
  • Botany

It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as a crop and livestock producer. If you are a high school student considering a career as a crop and livestock producer you should have a strong interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Economics

Role Models

Pirmin Kummer

Pirmin Kummer first heard about Timber River, New Brunswick, in a German farming magazine—an advertisement in it featured a small farm for sale. At the time, the 30-year-old had an M.Sc. in agriculture and was working as a farm manager in his native Germany. "I had always liked working with animals, farm equipment, and getting my hands dirty. I had grown up on a farm and knew I’d always wanted to be a farmer.” Seeing this as his opportunity to finally have a farm of his own, Pirmin quit his job, uprooted his family, and moved to the small New Brunswick town. Today, Pirmin partly owns and manages Timber River Eco Farms, a 700-acre farm that produces primarily potatoes, barley, oats, and hay.

Most of Pirmin’s time is spent outdoors planting crops, spraying them with fertilizer, and harvesting them. He uses many natural techniques, including natural pest management, which means using as few pesticides as required. "We try to be as environmentally friendly on the production side as possible.” In addition to working in the field with the crops, Pirmin fixes all farm equipment himself. He and his crew also wash, grade, and package the potatoes and transport them to distributors. Pirmin spends only a fraction of his time in the office. There he can be found doing his own accounting and product marketing. "I’ve always really enjoyed the variety of responsibilities involved with farming.”

One of the biggest rewards of Pirmin’s job is being able to see his crops grow and realize their full potential. "I love driving around in the evening looking at the crops right before they’re harvested. It just makes me feel good and proud to see the results of my hard work.” Despite that hard work, Pirmin faces drawbacks. "A couple of years ago, they found this crazy disease [potato wart] in a field on P.E.I. The disease was localized, but the prices for all potatoes plummeted as a result.” No matter how hard he works, Pirmin realizes he can’t control such circumstances as disease and extreme weather. "Farming has become a big gamble,” he says. However, he recognizes the risk involved: "You’re pretty sure you’re crazy if you want to make a living in farming.” But Pirmin continues to do just that. "I feel an inherent connection to the earth. I try to be a good steward of the land and be a good steward of the environment.”

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