Horticultural production operative (vertical farming)

Horticultural production operative (vertical farming)

A vertical horticultural production operative uses cutting-edge technology to produce crops to a high standard in a protected (indoor) environment.
Also known as vertical farming production operative, vertical horticulture production worker, assistant grower (vertical farming), growing assistant (vertical farming).

This profile highlights the skills and knowledge associated with the role. However, jobs will have varying responsibilities depending on level of the role and the size or type of the business.

Vertical farming means growing crops in indoors, in vertically stacked, soil-free layers. The highly controlled and protected nature of this type of growing means crops are produced all year round, in greater quantities and independently of normal growing seasons. 

The crops are grown in an environment where temperature, water, lighting, pests, and plant nutrition are carefully regulated and monitored. The processes used include hydroponics or aeroponics. This innovative style of growing can be carried out in purpose-built buildings or in more unusual structures, such as shipping containers, tunnels, and abandoned mine shafts. The crops grown in this manner include leafy green salads, herbs, and even soft fruits, with other possibilities being explored all the time. 

As a vertical horticultural production operative, you’ll help look after crops at all stages of their ​​development. This will include sowing, growing, harvesting, and preparing them for distribution. 

You’ll also help monitor the environment where plants grow and use innovative plant-growing technology and equipment. For example, you’ll keep a close eye on temperature and lighting controls, apply nutrients, and carry out the irrigation of crops as directed.  

You’ll work in a team supervised by a team leader or farm/site manager

This type of growing is independent of external weather conditions, but you may need to adapt your working hours to seasonal or industry/customer demands. 

Full-time, part-time, seasonal, and casual opportunities are available. In comparison to other forms of farming, this is also an opportunity for a new business start-up due to relatively low space requirements and start-up costs.

You may need your own transport to get to ​​work.  

As a horticultural production operative, your responsibilities might include:

  • Helping grow, look after, pick, and harvest the crops 
  • Helping process fresh products 
  • Supporting crop husbandry (growing) by following set processes 
  • Monitoring the crops and identifying/reporting issues, such as pests and diseases 
  • Checking that the growing environment, including the temperature, light, and moisture levels, are at prescribed levels and reporting any issues to supervisors 
  • Helping apply fertilisers and plant feed to meet regulations and best practice under supervision 
  • Helping meet production targets 
  • Following the site’s health and safety rules  
  • Using site technology, equipment, and machinery safely 
  • Following procedures and best practices so that plants grow efficiently  

To work as a horticultural operative in vertical farming, you should:

  • Have excellent communication skills 
  • Be positive and motivated  
  • Be committed and reliable  
  • Enjoy working in a team and under your initiative 
  • Be keen to develop skills and knowledge 
  • Be able to complete a variety of tasks with guidance 
  • Be able to spot and report issues 

Some jobs in this sector would require formal horticulture or agronomy qualifications to HNC, HND, or a similar level. However, this is a fast-developing sector, and enthusiasm and some research would also be suitable.

Knowledge and understanding in relation to plant growth/development and health and safety requirements in a lab or growing site would increase suitability for this role. An aptitude for working with technology would also be of benefit in this role. 

You can also get experience by volunteering or trying to secure work experience at a vertical farm in your area.

Reading industry newspapers, magazines, and websites will also develop your knowledge and understanding. 

Whatever route you choose, you’ll need to be flexible, keen to learn, and have an interest in plants. 

As a horticultural production operative (protected planting), you’ll have the following competencies in relation to producing protected crops to a high standard in a sustainable and profitable nursery. You will: 

  • Support good environmental practices and sustainability
  • Meet production targets 
  • Monitor and manage the indoor environment effectively 
  • Meet the relevant health and safety standards  
  • Help with crop production planning  
  • Follow site procedures for good-quality crop production  
  • Maximise productivity and look after plant health  
  • Make sure harvesting and crop storage is successful  
  • Use the appropriate technology, machinery, and equipment

Salaries are in the region of £20,000 to £30,000, depending on experience and location. 

As a vertical horticultural production operative, there are many opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge. You could choose to explore other areas of horticulture.

For example, if you’re working in protected growing, you might want to get experience outdoors in the field or work with other types of crops.

As you gain more experience, you could also move on to a supervisor role or a production manager by taking further qualifications and developing your technical and management skills. 

Courses which can help you on this career path include:

Foundation Level 1 Land-Based Diploma  

Level 2 Diploma in Land and Environment  

Level 3 Diploma in Horticulture  

Level 1 Practical Horticulture  

Level 2 Technical Qualifications in Horticulture  

Level 3 Technical Qualification in Horticulture  

RHS Level 2 Practical Certificate in Horticulture (part-time)  


Horticulture or Landscape Construction Operative Level 2  

Horticulture Crop Technician Level 3 

General Farm Worker Apprenticeship Level 2 

TIAH Essential Skills

Our online Essential Skills modules can help you develop your skills and knowledge in a range of areas and are a great addition to your CV.

Anyone considering working as a horticultural operative in the vertical farming sector would find our Biosecurity and Foundations in Farm Safety courses useful.

Return to our job profiles page for more exciting roles in farming and growing.