Farmers are gearing up for a busy growing season. Planting, hauling, caring for livestock, harvesting, marketing and distributing farm products — are you wondering how you’ll manage the workload? Seasonal help can boost your farm’s productivity and profitability, but good help can be hard to find.
Farm labor challenges
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Ohio was stagnant from 2010 to 2017, increasing only 1.1 percent. Rural counties, especially Ohio’s Appalachian counties, suffered declines, resulting in a smaller pool of potential applicants seeking farm work. ¹
Farmers depend on skilled workers to carry out critical tasks. Finding employees proficient in handling livestock, operating equipment and managing production can be a challenge. However, delegating critical tasks to inexperienced employees raises safety concerns. On my farm, I am reluctant to let inexperienced workers operate equipment or stand on moving hay wagons. Workers not used to laborious tasks often overestimate their physical capabilities and underestimate the importance of hydration. I have found that such workers slow the process down instead of speeding it up.
Offering a competitive wage while maintaining farm profitability is a challenge for farmers, especially when competing with the non-farm market for skilled employees. Without additional compensation, some workers find an air-conditioned office more appealing than working outdoors under the hot summer sun.
How to find and hire seasonal help
Assess labor needs. Make a list of tasks the new employee(s) will accomplish. Estimate the amount of time each task will take an average employee. Keep in mind inexperienced workers will likely take longer to accomplish a task than those with experience.
Identify desired skills and knowledge. What skills and knowledge will the ideal candidate bring to the farm? List skills and knowledge employees must have from day one, and skills and knowledge you are willing to train.
What new skills and knowledge can an employee contribute? The owner of an agritourism operation was delighted when her generation Z employees took her farm’s social media to the next level, “Staff posted pictures and videos that got a lot of likes and shares. They taught me how to boost posts and create online ads for my business.”
Develop a labor budget. Review your seasonal projections and cash flow estimates to determine what you can afford to spend on labor. If you come up short, keep in mind that money is a motivator but applicants also seek opportunities to learn and advance. Food and lodging are other benefits that farmers use to supplement wages.
The Ohio State University Extension Farm Office website offers farm management tools to create labor budgets. View Ohio Custom Rates for labor and contract services. The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) publishes wage rates for farm labor in multiple regions.
Write a job description. After you have assessed your labor needs, identified desired skills and knowledge, and developed a labor budget, you are ready to write a job description. Purdue University offers job description templates for various farm positions.
Advertise the job. Strategic advertising will attract qualified applicants to the position. Instead of blasting the ad everywhere, place the ad on relevant platforms where it is likely to be seen by your ideal candidates. This will save you time and money. Farm and Dairy classifieds is a great place to start. Farm and Dairy’s help wanted ads reach applicants seeking jobs in agriculture. Your ad dollars stretch twice as far, appearing in-print and online.
Advertising jobs on social media is a low-cost and effective way to reach applicants. Facebook job posts and social media promotions allow employers to target potential applicants by location, specify the length of time they wish to run an ad, and set an advertising budget. Promoted posts on Facebook cost as little as $2.50 a day and reach hundreds of potential job applicants in the local area.
Farm internships give students an opportunity to learn new things and develop skills. Farmers benefit from student workers that are eager to learn. Contact the local Ag college’s career development office to explore hosting interns on your farm.
Apprentice programs match willing workers with willing teachers. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) offers an apprentice matching program. Learn how you can share your knowledge with a farm apprentice.
Word-of-mouth advertising travels far in a rural community. Post the job on community boards and publish it in local newsletters. Contact your county’s OSU Extension Office, Farm Bureau chapter and Ag teachers. These organizations and individuals know the local Ag scene and can help spread the word in your community.
“Population Percent Change April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.” Quickfacts. United States Census Bureau. www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/OH/PST120217
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