Labor. It’s one of the biggest headaches of owning a farm. Small, mid-size, and large operations are all challenged by labor, primarily finding and keeping employees. It’s a fact that as farmers, we must evolve our thinking when it comes to attracting and hiring employees.
The reality is that we are competing with every other company and industry to hire the best people.
No one really told you about the challenge, because you don’t fully understand the magnitude of the problem until it’s your job to find and keep the best ag workers.
The bad news is that the competition for the best ag workers is getting stiffer, as employees have more choices of farms—and industries—to work for. We’re also competing with other industries. The good news is that technology and our global environment are introducing us to new ways to find farm workers.
Challenges of finding good ag workers
Labor is only one of the challenges you face. Regulations, land availability, price, and the economic viability of your operation can also present challenges. However, the ag workers on your farm can make or break the business on any given day. Having the best ag workers will not only help your farm’s sustainability, but it will also help you grow.
The pool of applicants for ag jobs is shrinking though, with fewer people interested in working in agriculture. There are several jobs to choose from for each applicant interested in working in agriculture. Many farms and ranches have turned to immigrants, although this presents another set of challenges.
For every available job, there is less than one potential employee to fill it, based on the 2018 unemployment statistics for the United States.
You may be competing with your neighbor, a farm in the next county, and several other businesses in town for an employee. What sets your farm apart as a good place to work? Why should an ag worker choose you over your neighbor?
Some farmers are still making it work with immigrant labor. Others are retaining good employees by treating them with respect, keeping them motivated and satisfied, and offering equity or other incentives.
What to look for in an ag worker
It’s challenging enough to find applicants for your farm job. Once you have potential employees, what traits should you look for in an ag worker?
Motivated, self-starters, versatile in that they can work in different parts of your operation, technologically inclined, stockmanship skills, problem solver, and communication skills are a few of the traits regularly mentioned.
Employees should be adaptable. Life on the farm is constantly changing. They may need to take on added responsibilities or shift their role during the course of employment on your farm.
Dexterity and physical fitness are also important. Farming requires hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Days can also be long, perhaps 10 or 12 hours during a busy time of the year.
Ideally, the skills of your farm worker will complement the skills of you and your other employees, building a team that can work together to complete all of the farm operations. Personality also matters, in order to aid retention, it’s important that any employees you hire are a good fit with you and your other ag workers.
While we would all prefer to hire an ag worker with farm experience, sometimes that’s just not possible. If your prospective employees don’t have farm experience, look for those that express an interest in learning new things, and enjoy being challenged.
Top places to find good ag workers
Finding good ag workers is hard. The skills and traits needed in a good ag worker can be hard to discern. Competition is fierce for employees in any industry. And, your time is limited by the demands of your farm.
First, you must be clear with your expectations for your farm worker. Think about the most stressful times on your farm, calving season, planting, and harvest. Write your job description so that it provides a full understanding of working on your farm.
Next, you may want to leverage digital platforms in the employee search process. Many farms are recruiting ag workers professionally, similar to how other industries find employees. Although some farms can still find workers by asking around in the neighborhood, this is getting harder.
There are lots of digital platforms out there for employers and job seekers. The difference in choosing an agriculture-specific one is that we get what you need because agricultural platforms are you. Agriculture job platforms are by farmers and for farmers, and help cut the time and hassle out of your search process.
You can follow the traditional route:
Ask neighbors and friends if they know of any good ag workers.
Send your job description to the local newspaper, and post it in businesses around town.
Choose a couple of websites such as LinkedIn, Craigslist or Indeed to post your job to.
Start screening applicants if any are received.
If there aren’t any applicants, or the ones that apply aren’t qualified, start over at step one or two.
Or, if you’re too busy to be worrying about staffing issues, there are turnkey services that will save you time and eliminate uncertainty in the staffing process. The Workhorse white glove service, for instance, matches you with thoroughly vetted and pre-screened ag industry candidates ready to work on your farm.
Whether you need general labourers, mechanics, service technicians, animal health specialists, or someone else, Workhorse can find and match you with the very best folks in the industry. In a nutshell, here’s how the process works.
There is a growing trend of young people leaving white-collar jobs for farming, but you need the right hiring and staffing strategy to capture the right candidates. These young people are used to searching for and applying to jobs online, so you need to go where they are, or partner with a service, like Workhorse, who is already there.
It costs an average of $4,000 and 24 days to hire a new worker in the United States. That number is averaged out across a wide range of industries, but the bottom line is clear, hiring workers can be costly.
Hiring the wrong workers can be just as costly. If an employee quits, it can cost 1.5 to 2.0 times the employee’s annual salary to replace them. This can include any lost production you may experience in crops not being harvested, or livestock not performing as expected.
On the farm, your time and resources are carefully allocated. Simplify the process by allowing WorkHorse to find and hire the right employees for your operation. This way, you can focus on what really matters, farming.