Production operatives have an important role in monitoring and picking crops in protected horticultural environments.

Horticultural production operative (protected planting)

Horticultural production operative (protected planting)

A horticultural production operative helps produce protected crops to a high standard in a sustainable and profitable ​​​​nursery (plant growing) business.
Also known as production operative, horticultural production worker, assistant grower or growing assistant.

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.

Production operatives have an important role in monitoring and picking crops in protected horticultural environments.

Protected plant production means growing plants in a sheltered environment, such as a glass house, a polytunnel, or ​a ​vertical farm, to extend the growing season and produce as many healthy plants as possible.

Plants are grown in an environment where temperature, water, lighting, pests, and plant nutrition are carefully controlled. This helps create the best growing conditions.  

As a horticultural production operative, you’ll help look after crops at all stages of their ​​development. This will include planting, harvesting, and preventing disease and pests.  

You’ll also help manage the environment where plants grow and use plant-growing technology and equipment. For example, you’ll keep a close eye on temperature and lighting controls, apply nutrients, and manage the watering of plants.  

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

Working hours can vary depending on the season and the size and type of nursery. You might be asked to work overtime or at weekends during busier times. 

Full-time, part-time, seasonal, and casual opportunities are available. 

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 and monitoring the growing environment, including the temperature, light, and moisture levels 
  • Helping apply fertilisers and plant feed to meet regulations and best practice 
  • Helping meet production targets 
  • Following the nursery’s health and safety rules  
  • Using nursery technology, equipment, and machinery safely 
  • Following procedures and best practices so plants grow efficiently  

To work as a production operative in protected planting, 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 

You don't necessarily need any formal training for some entry-level jobs in horticulture. However, you may choose to study to help you understand the industry better. The Royal Horticultural Society has various full-time, part-time, and online courses.

Apprenticeships are also available, where you can learn and earn at the same time. 

You can also get experience by volunteering with a nursery or smallholding, a local city farm, a community garden, a garden centre, or an allotment. If you would like to find one in your area, you can visit the Social Farms and Gardens website

Reading horticultural newspapers and magazines will also develop your knowledge and understanding. 

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

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

  • Boost sustainability, support good environmental practices, and meet production targets 
  • Manage the indoor environment effectively 
  • Meet the relevant health and safety standards  
  • Help with crop production planning  
  • Follow nursery 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

Download our Protected horticulture production operative competency profile to find out more about these competencies and how they map with our Capability Framework.

Salaries are in the region of £14,000 to £23,000, depending on experience and location. 

As a 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 in the field or work with other 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 Operative Level 2  

Horticulture Crop Technician Level 3 

General Farm Worker Apprenticeship Level 2 

Short courses and online study

There are also other opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge, such as short one-day courses and online study.   

City & Guilds NPTC Pesticide Training Courses 

PA1 Safe use of Pesticides 

PA6a Handheld Applicators 

Lantra Pesticide training courses 

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 production operative in protected planting 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.