5 Ways to Retain Your Best Farm Workers | Corteva Agriscience™

5 Ways to Retain Your Best Farm Workers

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Having trouble finding qualified employees for your farm? The agricultural workforce in the United States is shrinking over time, making it more difficult for farms to attract and keep workers. In April 1950, 10.6 million hired farm workers were at work on U.S. farms and ranches, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service’s Farm Labor Survey. By April 2000, that number had shrunk to 1.05 million. And in April 2020, there were only 688,000 workers on U.S. farms. A changing economy and immigration policies further limit the pool of potential farm workers. 

Finding qualified farm workers has only become more challenging as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During 2020, many immigrant farm workers were unable to travel to the United States for seasonal work, and virus fears kept many domestic workers from committing to farms, according to Reuters. Some farmers worry that ongoing travel bans related to the pandemic may perpetuate the problem through 2021. 

As the pandemic rages on and the farm labor shortage persists, it’s more important than ever to retain the workers you already have on your farm and avoid the need to replace them. Employee engagement is an important topic for all types of businesses, but it can be especially crucial to help retain workers in agriculture.

Why focus on employee engagement at your farm? 

When employees are engaged at work, they are less likely to leave the organization, less likely to miss work, and less likely to be injured at work, according to a Gallup study of more than 2.7 million employees around the world. Engaged employees are also more productive, and their organizations are more profitable. 

Having engaged employees on your farm certainly sounds ideal, but many employers don’t quite understand what engagement means. Engaged employees “are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace,” according to Gallup. “They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive high performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.”

Think of engagement like this: Everyone wants to derive purpose and meaning from their work, including your farm employees. If you can create an atmosphere and a work arrangement that help your employees feel valued, appreciated, and as if their work and ideas make a difference, you’ll help foster greater employee engagement—and hopefully retain your workers from one season to another.

Consider some of these ideas for boosting engagement among your farm workers.

1. Foster a family culture in your farm organization

Farming was primarily a family business for centuries. Even if the people working on your farm aren’t blood relatives, you can work to build a family culture in which everyone feels accepted. Employees who have a positive relationship with their supervisor or manager are more likely to be engaged, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s Toolkit on Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement.

Start by setting aside time to build authentic relationships with and among your team members. Take time to visit with and get to know workers on an individual level; ask about their children, grandchildren, pets and hobbies, as well as their career goals and aspirations. You may even host family-style lunches for everyone on the farm on a weekly or monthly basis, which will help build camaraderie among the team. 

To effectively build a family culture on your farm, do your best to help each worker reach his or her potential. Ask for employees’ feedback about the job they’re doing and the processes you have in place, and provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities when appropriate. Employees who have opportunities to grow and feel as if their input is heard and valued are more engaged. 

2. Offer flexible hours

A year into the pandemic, Americans have been forced to become more flexible. Schools have moved from virtual learning to hybrid learning to in-person learning and back again; indoor dining has been limited to less capacity. Public and government buildings have largely shifted to conducting business virtually. As employees have had to adjust to flexibility in other areas of life, they may come to expect their employers to provide that same flexibility to them.

Farm work isn’t the type of job that can be done remotely, but it likely can be more flexible than it often is. For example, you may need all workers on hand for long hours during the busy weeks of harvest season, but during less busy times, you might be able to provide flexible scheduling.

While you build relationships with your employees, consider asking which flexible hours would help them feel most supported. Working parents who need to take children to a doctor’s appointment or work only during school hours will be more engaged when their employer is willing to adjust expectations to meet their needs. Farm workers who may be helping care for an elderly relative can also benefit from flexibility, and will feel more loyal to an employer who allows that.

3. Offer paid time off

Engaged workers are less likely to miss work, but there are times when even the most engaged employee needs to stay home. The pandemic has made it clear that sick employees should stay home—and if you provide paid sick time, they are more likely to stay home and avoid spreading illness throughout your entire workforce.

Consider instituting a standard for paid time off, like 10 days per year. Employees can choose whether to use their days for vacation or for personal use. When an employee has used all of his or her paid days off for the year, any additional sick days would be taken without pay. 

By offering paid time off, you can show employees that you value their physical and mental health. Feeling valued will make them feel more engaged and committed to your farm.

4. Provide childcare benefits

Only 7 percent of employers provide childcare help to their employees, but doing so reduces turnover by 35 percent to 60 percent, reduces absenteeism by 20 percent to 30 percent, and increases productivity for 85 percent of parents, according to Employee Benefit News

If your employees include parents with children at home, providing a childcare benefit may be worth considering. Some farms may have space to provide a staffed nursery, allowing young children to come to work with their parents.

Do your best to help each worker reach his or her potential. Ask for employees’ feedback, and provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities when appropriate.

If on-site child care isn’t feasible, consider offering a stipend to help young parents cover the cost of child care instead. Some farm owners may also be able to negotiate discounts for their employees at a local child care center. When an employer lends a hand to help employees care for their growing families, employees are more likely to feel supported and valued. In return, they will be more engaged with their jobs and more committed to the employer for the long term.

5. Consider profit-sharing agreements 

There may be no better way to help employees adopt an “ownership” mentality to your farm than to actually give them a share in the farm’s profits. With a profit-sharing agreement with your employees, you generously share the farm’s profits with the people who helped make them happen.

There are various types of profit-sharing agreements, and they can be set up as retirement plans for your workers or as annual bonuses. There is no requirement for an owner to commit to sharing a certain amount or percentage on a regular basis. It’s up to the farm owner to decide what percentage of profits he or she will share with employees, and that amount is divvied up among employees based on their salary levels. 

You do have to make sure you divide the profits without showing favoritism; you can do this based on salary or on each employee’s contribution. If you choose to implement a profit-sharing retirement plan, you’ll have to complete an IRS form that discloses all participants in the plan.  

When employees understand that they’ll personally benefit from the profits of the farm, they will likely be more motivated to do their best work and help boost the farm’s profits. And by allowing them to share in the rewards of the harvest, you’ll create more engaged and loyal employees. 

Engage your employees for long-term working relationships

American farms may be struggling to find committed, skilled workers year after year. But if you use our tips to build an atmosphere of engagement among your current employees, you may be able to avoid that challenge and keep moving into the future with a committed, loyal workforce.


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The information provided herein is provided gratis, and solely as reference. The information is not intended to be, nor shall it be a farmer’s sole and exclusive source of information on the subject matter. Corteva Agriscience makes no warranty, or other representation, express or implied, as to the accuracy of any information contained herein, and cannot assume responsibility or liability for reliance on or use of this information by any farmer in making specific decisions on employee benefits, which in all cases is the responsibility of the farmer.