There are approximately 42,000 agricultural products graders and sorters working in the United States. This type of work is projected to remain level in the next decade. Technology has resulted in automatic sorters, imported agricultural goods of higher quality, and more efficient growing methods as well as improved control of disease and infestation. These technological improvements are replacing more workers every year, but new positions will become available as current graders and sorters leave their jobs for other work or to retire.
- Graders and sorters are responsible for sorting, classifying, and grading agricultural products which include food items such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, grains, milk, ground nuts, tree nuts and meat, as well as nonfood items like wool, feathers, animal hides, and plant fibers such as cotton.
- Sorting, classifying, and grading are done with an eye toward a number of traits. Size, color, weight, species, length, width, smell, feel, condition, and appearance are some of the distinguishing characteristics that contribute to the decisions made by graders and sorters.
- Graders might weigh fruit or vegetables to help determine which grade they should be given. Eggs must be organized by size. Wool, animal fur, or plant fibers are examined using a microscope. This helps the grader determine how much spirality fibers contain, as well as the degree of maturity.
- Graders will also pull fiber strands to evaluate the cohesiveness and strength of the fibers.
All agricultural products, whether food or nonfood products, must be of an acceptable basic quality before they are made available to consumers. Unacceptable products might be too small, spoiled, contaminated with foreign matter, have an off-smell, show visual signs of unacceptability such as appearing bruised or off-color, or otherwise fail to make the grade. Graders and sorters dispose of all agricultural products that are substandard or contaminated, and group remaining product by grade. Once the agricultural product has been sorted, it is put into containers that have been marked with the appropriate grade.
- Graders and sorters keep records, including the grade of the product as well as the identification numbers which must be written on tags. If there are sales sheets or shipping and receiving documents, the identification numbers should be recorded there as well.
Agricultural graders and sorters have a range of tasks and a range of work environments. Depending upon what agricultural product is being sorted, graders might stand for long periods of time. There could be times when they must lift, carry, and haul heavy boxes or awkward objects. However, another task might permit a grader or sorter to work through an entire shift in a seated position, and have no heavy lifting to do. Sometimes sorters are given several tasks back to back. At other times, a single, more involved task will take their entire work day or several work days.
As with all agricultural workers, graders and sorters work in a wide range of environments. Those who are assigned lab work will have climate controlled, well-lit surroundings. However, other graders and sorters might work in crowded, noisy areas with little ventilation. The work environment is dependent to a large degree upon the nature of the work that has been assigned.
Graders and sorters may need to work overtime or weekend hours when certain agricultural products are being harvested, butchered, or shorn. Because fruits, vegetables, and meats are highly perishable, it is important to get them into refrigeration and shipped as quickly as possible.
Most graders and sorters are not required to have a high school diploma unless they work in quality control. However, those who would like to advance to a supervisory position may be required to have a diploma or GED.
The median hourly wages for graders and sorters is less than $10 per hour.