Agriculture: Licensing and Certification Opportunities in Agriculture

Agriculture: Licensing and Certification Opportunities in Agriculture

Accredited Farm Manager (AFM)

Individuals earning this designation have attained the pinnacle of industry education and training, according to standards established by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA). Upon completing a meticulous ASMRA qualification program, an AFM will possess the expertise to:

  • Maintain a profitable, sustainable enterprise
  • Exercise sound business practices in production management
  • Understand environmental issues in terms of regulatory compliance
  • Know those government activities impacting agriculture, such as taxes, legislation and subsidies

Mastery of the above administrative tasks allows the AFM to manage the following functions - a feat the untrained farmer might well find formidable:

  • Budget and cash flow
  • Rate of return analysis
  • Crop/livestock and futures marketing
  • Farm plan design/implementation
  • Operator selection
  • Risk management analysis
  • Lease negotiation/implementation
  • Seed, fertilizer and production input selection
  • Precision farming
  • Insurance products
  • Irrigation analysis and technology
  • Biotech recommendations
  • Government program analysis
  • Environmental compliance
  • Tax regulation
  • Land/property transactions
  • Expert witness testimony
  • Permanent plantings
  • Soil conservation

Certified Agricultural Consultant (CAC)

A designation of the American Society of Agricultural Consultants, a CAC is qualified to provide expert services to all manner of businesses - from small and mid-size farms to conservation agencies. Deemed by some pundits to be the fastest growing profession in the industry, a CAC performs the following functions:

  • Advises clients regarding day-to-day operational issues
  • Assesses future opportunities for farm enterprises
  • Assists with finances, business structure, human relation issues, succession planning, report generation and staff management
  • Works with owners regarding production rates
  • Identifies and assesses technical needs
  • Facilitates business planning, government grant applications and new business ventures
  • Collects and analyzes crop and financial data
  • Organizes and manages field trials, demonstrations, training and farm walks for clients, colleagues, partnering organizations and other interested persons
  • Communicates in writing and orally (e.g. technical notes, press releases), as needed
  • Markets and promotes on the client's behalf
  • Keeps abreast of industry developments as related to clients

Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg)

The American Society of Agronomy defines an agronomist as a plant and soil scientist who strives to improve crop and farm productivity in conjunction with efficient pest and weed management. While a number of these individuals are self-employed, many work for federal, state and local government agencies, as well as for private industry and agricultural colleges. A CPAg's professional responsibilities may include:

  • Field research regarding all phases of agricultural production
  • Consultation with farm owners on systems and protocols
  • Grading of all agricultural crops
  • Documentation of critical data, such as project reports and research outcomes
  • Studies at laboratories, experiment stations or on working farms, with the goal to develop and improve field crop varieties regarding quality, yield, climate/soil adaptation and disease/pest resistance
  • Design and execution of solutions for problems such as low crop yields, weeds, insect/pest infestations, disease and erosion without harm to the environment, yet with maximum economic productivity

Certified Crop Advisor (CCA)

Formal credentialing as a Certified Crop Advisor comes by way of the American Agronomy Society's intense certification program. Because this title covers a wide range of services and disciplines, pinning down just a few job functions can be tricky.

For instance, some consultants may work in solo operations specializing in single crops, while others are staffers in bigger companies and deal with a broad array of fruits, vegetables and grains. What's more, pundits suggest that with today's rapidly evolving agricultural technologies, the role of the consultant is becoming increasingly important to farm businesses of all sizes. The following list describes some of the many functions a Certified Crop Consultant may expect to perform:

  • Pest identification and control; integrated pest management
  • Soil fertility analysis and amendments
  • Seed and variety selection
  • Irrigation management
  • Global Information System consultation
  • Management of biotechnology advances, such as resistance management strategies for biotech plants
  • Biointensive scouting services in connection with programs targeting pests, predators, diseases, populations, weed hosts etc.
  • Watershed management
  • Animal waste management
  • Research trials

Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS), Certified Professional Soil Classifier (CPSC)

Soil surveying involves an in-depth understanding of physical, chemical, mineral and biological characteristics applying to pedology (i.e. the science of soil origin, character and utilization). Agricultural professionals who wish to pursue this career direction can earn CPSS/CPSC designations through the Soil Science Society of America, which provides a thorough, systematic certification process. Once credentialed, an individual can perform a broad array of tasks:

  • Study soil characteristics and classifies soils based on specific types
  • Present advice on urban and rural land usage
  • Perform chemical analysis on a soil's micro-organism content to identify microbial activity and its chemical/mineral correlation to plant growth
  • Explore responses of individual soil types to soil management practices, including crop rotation, fertilization regimens and industrial waste protocols
  • Perform experiments in laboratories, experimental stations or in the field to ascertain optimum soil types for specific crops
  • Consult for commercial agriculture businesses and industry
  • Advise government agencies dealing with agriculture, industry and the environment
  • Act as an expert witness in litigation involving industries or individuals
  • Act as a professional media liaison, providing and interpreting scientific and agricultural information as appropriate

Organic Farm Certification

The National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees and regulates the national production, management and labeling standards for all fruits, vegetables, grains and livestock deemed organic agricultural products. The NOP also sanctions those foreign and domestic certifying agents who inspect organic products and handling facilities to assure they meet USDA standards.

Given the avid public interest in "natural" foods, some farm owners might well consider going organic a forward-thinking strategy - and likely, it is. Still, it's important to note that formal certification is a legal mandate for operations marketing more than $5,000 worth of organic products annually. Because the process is lengthy, USDA analysts advise would-be organic growers to remember that certification:

  • Requires diverse crop rotations, green-manuring, cover crops, livestock manure, composting and other sustainable practices
  • Precludes contamination of organic production by the accidental mixture of organic and conventional products, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
  • Mandates precautions against pesticide drift from off-farm and other contaminating sources
  • Requires heavy documentation in order to insure organic integrity
  • Forbids use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other prohibited substances three full years preceding the first organic crop harvest
  • Requires management of livestock in a non-cruel manner, with attention to natural behavior (e.g. restricted physical alternations; pasture land for ruminants; outdoor access)