Horticulture field operative

Horticulture field operative

As a horticultural field operative, you will help produce outdoor crops to a high standard. You will work as part of a business that is growing crops, utilising technology, and supporting the environment.
Also known as field operative, farm operative, vegetable picker, fruit picker, production worker, or horticultural farm worker.

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.

As a horticultural field operative, you can work on a variety of farms producing fruit, vegetables, or salad crops for humans to eat. Alternatively, you might find work on a farm growing ornamental plants. These are grown for use in public spaces or sold through garden centres and shops.

The UK has a wide variety of soil types and a mild climate. These conditions are perfect for growing fruit, vegetables, and ornamental plants. They can be grown in fields or protected areas such as glasshouses, polytunnels, and vertical farms.  

You’ll work on a wide range of tasks, including helping with soil management, preparing the soil for sowing seeds or planting seedlings, spotting plant health issues, harvesting crops, and helping to store crops safely and correctly.  

Horticulture is an interesting and varied sector: You’ll be using different types of farm machinery and have lots of opportunities to learn about new technologies and sustainable environmental practices - for example, introducing bees to pollinate commercial crops.  

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

Working hours can vary depending on the size and type of farm or season. You may need to work overtime or weekends during busy periods such as planting or harvest.  

You should also enjoy working outdoors. 

There are opportunities for part-time, full-time, and casual/seasonal work.  

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

As a horticultural field operative, your responsibilities might include:

  • ​​​Picking, harvesting and/or processing fresh produce 
  • Good knowledge of different crop varieties 
  • Helping manage the soil to improve soil health 
  • Using machinery to carry out a range of crop production tasks safely and effectively  
  • Helping manage the crop  
  • Spotting and reporting pests, weeds, and diseases 
  • Helping manage pests, weeds, and diseases 
  • Helping apply fertilisers and nutrients, meeting regulations and best practice standards 
  • Meeting production targets 
  • Meeting the farm’s health and safety requirements  
  • Making sure crops are produced efficiently by meeting best practice guidelines and following business procedures 

To work as a horticultural field operative, you should:

  • Enjoy working in a team or independently  
  • Be able to communicate and listen well 
  • Be committed and reliable  
  • Be able to work in a calm manner and meet deadlines 
  • Be able to spot and report issues 
  • Be able to follow instructions and carry out a wide variety of tasks
  • Be good at organising and planning your time 
  • Be keen to learn and develop skills 

You do not necessarily need any formal training to become a horticulture field operative.

You could also gain experience by volunteering with a local community garden, a garden centre, or a local farm that produces crops for food. 

If you choose to study for a qualification, The Royal Horticultural Society also offers a wide range of full-time and part-time courses and online study opportunities. There are also apprenticeship programmes where you can learn and earn at the same time.  

There are also various study routes, as listed in the Qualifications and Training section below. 

Alternatively, you can gain experience by volunteering on a nursery or small holding, a local city farm, a community garden, or an allotment. To find one in your area, go to the Social Farms and Gardens website

Reading horticultural newspapers, magazines, and websites can also help develop your knowledge and understanding.  

Whichever route you decide to take, you must be interested in horticulture, have a flexible approach to work, and be keen to learn. 

As a horticulture field operative, you’ll have the following competencies to produce field-based crops effectively and sustainably:  

  • Support good environmental practices and achieve production targets  
  • Manage the soil carefully  
  • Meet the relevant health and safety standards  
  • Help plan crop production 
  • Follow farm rules to make sure crops are of good quality 
  • Make sure the farm is productive, and plants are healthy 
  • Harvest and store crops effectively  
  • Use farm technology, machinery, and equipment safely and responsibly

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

Salaries are in the region of £19,000 to £23,000 or ​​from £9.50 per hour but can vary depending on experience and location.  

As a horticultural field operative, you'll have lots of opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge. You can choose to explore other areas of horticulture. For example, you may want to work with other types of crops or specialise in a certain area.

You could also study for further qualifications or build your skills to become an assistant farm manager or a production technician. 

Getting a role ‘in the field’, however, is ​​a good starting point for a career in horticulture or a related area. You’ll gain many transferable skills and knowledge, allowing you to move into different roles in health and safety, commercial roles, or technical work. 

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 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 horticulture field operative would find our Biosecurity and Foundations in Farm Safety courses helpful.

You can find out more about life as a horticulture field operaticve by listening to Ben Eagle's Meet the Farmers podcast, episode 162.

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