How to hire the right person for your farm
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 04/22/2012 1:53 PM
NORTHFIELD, Minn.—Attracting the right person for the right job is critical when hiring employees for the farm, says Chuck Schwartau, a regional Extension educator based in Rochester.
Schwartau conducted a survey in 2010 of 172 Minnesota dairy farms with more than 150 cows. The average farm reported 25 percent employee turnover annually. Hiring solid candidates in the first place could save farmers the time and money it takes to bring in new employees.
Approximately 20 people came to a recent workshop about farm employee management at the Big Steer Truck Stop in Northfield. It was hosted by Dakota, Rice and Scott County Extension with support from AgStar Financial Services.
Hiring starts with thinking about what what type of help is needed, if the farm can afford to add an employee, if the job will keep a highly motivated individual interested, if the farmer is able to manage people and what the payback will be to the business, Schwartau said.
Ideally, hiring someone will give the farmer time to focus on higher-level tasks that improve the business and reduce stress and pressure on the farmer.
"I suggest that as the employer, you do a self-assessment," said Schwartau.
Farmers should consider if they can teach others, listen to concerns and questions and if they will be able to trust others to complete tasks.
Schwartau cautioned against only hiring family members.
"It's tough to fire family, let's face it," he said.
Workforce needs can be assessed by listing who handles specific duties currently and how much time is needed for those tasks. It's important to factor in time for business management each day so key decisions aren't a low priority.
Once employee needs are identified, a job description should be created to outline the skills required. Candidates will self-screen themselves once they read that work starts at 4 a.m., if random drug tests will be performed or that they will be required to lift 50 pounds regularly. Current employees are a good source to use when creating job descriptions.
Make the job sound as interesting as possible but be honest, Schwartau said. Create the job with growth opportunities in mind.
"Make sure employees understand how their job contributes to the farm," he said, such as teaching them that a clean stall contributes to cow health which, in turn, can increase milk quality.
"A farm is a system," he said. "People need to understand how they impact the farm's success."
After recruiting and advertising for the position, it's courteous to send brief letters of rejection to candidates who aren't right for the job.
Testing candidates can be part of the interview process. They can be taken to the barn to see how they interact with livestock or asked to do a quick driving test on a skid steer. A test given to one candidate must be given to all candidates for the same position. It's helpful to have them observe someone doing the job they would do if hired. Keep in mind that candidates are interviewing their prospective employer as much as the employer is interviewing them.
"Always, always check references," Schwartau said.
References can illuminate issues that took a candidate out of their previous employment. It can help a farmer learn whether the candidate will work or spy for an animal activist organization.
Once a selection is made, the candidate accepts the job offer and their employee documents are checked, the new hire should have an orientation on their first day, or at least their first week. It should run through the basics such as who to report to and where to park their car. It's ideal to assign a mentor that can work side by side with the new employee and answer questions.