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Member

Hired help

Read recently that there are two jobs available in agriculture for every potential employee. In places like California, there are four times more jobs than workers. What's the situation in your neck of the woods? What's the key to finding and keeping good help, do you think? Any anecdotes to share? I'm writing an article for SF on the topic and would sure appreciate some good grassroots input. Won't use your name unless I get permission. Thanks in advance for your thoughts! -- John Walter

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Senior Contributor

Re: Hired help

Pay the ones that work, fire the ones that don't. Although I fired everyone when I got out of the apple business and bought more gps equipment for myself. Less fatigue equals more hours in the field.
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Veteran Advisor

Re: Hired help

Hi, John,

I don't see a lot of help wanted signs for ag workers around here.  There is not a big demand for farm machine operators as far as I know.  People seem to have sized their operation to the help they can rely on.

 

There is a fair amount of low-grade turnover in the ag support sector, I think.  People on the lower end of the pay scale working for a chemical company or seed dealer for a while and then moving on.  I can't give a lot of hard data to back that up, it's more a feeling or sensing.

 

As my dad said many years ago, any good hired man wants to farm on his own.  If you get a good one it's hard to keep him and if you can keep him he may not be the quality you want.

 

Farm labor itself does not seem to be the question around here.  It's the ancillary jobs like sprayer operator, truck driver, mechanic, welder, and so forth who have a fair amount of turnover.  

 

I believe a good worker could find a good job, even if the 'help needed' sign is not out.  It may not pay quite as well as the worker would like.  It would likely not have benefits.  Here, so close to schools and manufacturing, there is a lot of competition to get the jobs with benefits.

 

 

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Honored Advisor

Re: Hired help

John,

 

With a more condid comment than normal......

 

I think the labor issue in production agriculture has taken a step into a more technical direction....  Not only are the jobs being trimmed by more effecient and technical machines, but labor sourcing has been taken to a higher level.  There are farm labor recruiting firms that offer labor that is competent and reasonably priced.  Those firms have taken a big share of the "hired" labor force market.

 

Question is ......... Is your article geared toward the total agriculture community or just the "image" of the family farm?  Who your writing for makes a big difference.

 

You don't have to watch too many drone videos to wonder about this issue.  And it would be nice to know the number of acres in the US being custom harvested and custom planted, sprayed, etc....  What % of the farm labor is "hired" along with the machine?  etc

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Member

Re: Hired help

These are some good questions you pose. I will think them over as I continue to research the article. So far what I'm learning is that the labor shortage in some parts of agriculture, such as with certain specialty crops, the situation is at a crisis level. Sectors of the industry are intensively seeking technologies to replace hired help. I have found, too, in support of your point, that farmers are increasingly using companies to supply them labor when needed. But, I'm still not clear on how Corn Belt farmers, who may employ a couple, three people, are managing. Can they find good help consistently? How do you retain and incentify employees? So far, more questions than answers. Appreciate your good input. 

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Member

Re: Hired help

Jim: These are some helpful observations. In particular, I think the comment your dad passed along is insightful. As an aside, in more than 30 years of visiting farms, it always seemed like I'd find that so many farmers had a kind of top-gun sidekick working for them. You could kind of sense these people were highly dependable, experienced and bright. I wonder if this sort of "hired man" situation applies today as much as it used to? How to you find and keep a person like that, I wonder? 

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Honored Advisor

Re: Hired help

Around here it is a young Mennonite that'll have 

 

 a small farm and the erratic hours work for both.

 

A friend of mine recently accepted a full time job on a large farming operation in another state.

 

Main job is to be the sprayer operator, help on some other things once in a while,

 

He asked for more than fifty thousand, got it plus a nice house with utilities finished. Winters basically off.

 

Visited with him a couple weeks ago, had just finished spraying 15,000 acres. No custom. It's in big field country.

 

There are some fields in his area that have 5,000 to 7,000 acres in them. Yep pack a lunch. Maybe a pillow too.

 

 

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Member

Re: Hired help

Hobby, interesting to think that a fellow could have a relatively full-time job just running a sprayer. I don't suppose he's provided health insurance, but the home and utilities are nice benefits, of course. Thanks for sharing.... 

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Honored Advisor

Re: Hired help

Notice the problem finding labor is in the hand labor market....

 

The technical equipment opperators are out there and well paid....  

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Member

Re: Hired help

sw, your point about custom operators substituting for hired labor is interesting. Maybe what you're say is that this is a case where we are seeing a substitution of technology for labor. Yes, there are still operators in the sprayers and other field equipment, but how much on-farm human labor do these bigger, specialized machines replace, in effect? And how long before they are fully or mostly robotic? That said, there's still a whole lot of work on farms that require a human touch, right? 

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