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Farming Across Cultures Communication Program

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Ag Labor Management

"You can hire people to take care of the cows but how are you going to run a large dairy when nobody will work for you?" Bob Parsons, Assistant Professor Farm business Management, University of Vermont

Agricultural labor management is more than scheduling employees to milk, plant crops, or repair machinery. It also requires you to be a leader. And, you can't be a complacent leader. Your enthusiasm and ability to motivate employees is what will help you to reach your farm's goals.

At a Glance

  • Decisions on the farm related to who, what, where, when and why
  • Having strategies in place to make sure the who, what, where, when and why happens effectively and efficiently
  • Good ag labor management is pro-active management not reactive management

As an agricultural producer, you will always be wearing more than one hat. Your job as the farm's human resource specialist is no exception.

Management can be viewed as creating order and predictability (e.g., assigning, scheduling, reporting). Leadership is the more chaotic side, dealing with change (e.g., sharing, drawing out information, motivating). Labor management decisions are too important to be left to chance. Farm employees deserve your time, attention, and care whether they are full or part-time, temporary or permanent, or family members.

This section of the website is designed to provide a compilation of information about labor management for agricultural producers. While the focus is on dairy farms with a Latino workforce, this section is applicable and important for any and all managers or supervisors that oversee employees on their farms.

Inclusion of information from does not constitute an endorsement. Exclusion of information from individuals, educational institutions, or companies is not a negative implication.

Every effort has been made to offer accurate advice. The information included should not be construed as legal advice. When concerned, seek legal assistance.

Hiring Practices

Hiring practices that identify and recruit employees that can and want to do the job you need done.

Recommended Basic Hiring Practices:

  1. Minimum information to gather from a potential employee (in person or by telephone)
    • Name
    • Previous work experience
    • Work experience related to job being offered
    • Previous employer information (name and phone number)
    • Lenght of last employment
    • Why did he/she leave or is planning to leave
    • Machinery or tool use experience relevant to job being offered
    • Work specific knowledge relevant to job being offered (heats, calving, mastitis, dry cow treatment)
  2. Information that you should share with a potential employee
    • Job description
    • Any policies you have (work hard, respect manager and coworker, be on time, no alcohol in the workplace...)
    • Hours
    • Time off
    • Pay (starting and incremental)
    • Other benefits (heat, electricity, cable, beef...)
    • Housing situation (own room, sharing room, living room)
  3. What to do before offering a position
    • Call previous employer to gauge work experience, skill level, initiative, and ability to work with co-workers
    • Revisit job description to make sure potential employee meets all requirements of the job

New Employee Training

New employee training: dedicated time to introduce a new employee to your farm, co-workers, pay and benefits, work expectations, and job duties

A new employee has an overwhelming amount of information to absorb. They need to learn:

  • general information about the workplace
  • specific task or job description

An attitude that the new employee will either "sink or swim" on their own is not the best strategy. Consider what first impression your farm makes on the new employee. Adequate information, details, and training need to be provided for the success of both the new employee and the farm.

If you do not orient and train, a new employee may use unacceptable methods, develop bad habits, make poor choices or decide that farm rumors are accurate facts. Orientation and training set the tone for the employee-employer experience.

You may decide to divide the general orientation over a couple of days. Learning the specific job responsibilities may also be divided over time. The trainer will need to judge how much mentoring, one-on-one instruction, observation, and review is needed.

Routine meetings

Routine meetings to allow for full and easy communication between the producer and/or manager and employees. If you have Spanish speaking employee(s) a monthly meeting needs to be interpreted. It is strongly recommended that all farms with employees that speak English as a second language hold interpreted meetings at least monthly.

Additional Training

Additional training: introducing or revisiting topics pertinent to the job being done such as farm safety, equipment use, animal behavior, milk quality, and animal health

Employers and managers should have a training plan to identify and prioritize training topics that provide employees with not only the skills to perform their job well but also the knowledge about why protocols and guidelines are in place and the ability to more fully understand the work that they do. The training plan should first identify which topics are of most importance to enable an employee to do his or her job well and then identify additional topics that allow the employee to increase knowledge and skills that can be applied to an expanded job descrptoin or used for crosstraining. There are an endless list of topics that can enhance a dairy farm employee's knowledge including but not limited to Milking Procedures, Cleaning the Milking System, Farm safety, Mastitis detection, Mastitis treatment, Milk Quality, Skid steer use and safety, Animal behavior, Heat detection, Newborn calf care. Training and educational resources in English and Spanish can be found HERE

Continuous training can be provided by the farm owner, manager, veterinarian, nutritionists, milk quality fieldsman, contract trainer or through private or publically funded trainings off the farm. Trainings can be done through informal conversation, an established meeting, presentations, pictures, demonstrations, videos, and written material, preferably a mixture of a variety of methods. If any one employee has no or a low level of English it is strongly recommended that continuous training be done in collaboration with an interpreter to make sure the employee has full understanding of the information being discussed.

A Communication Plan

A communication plan: identifying an interpreter contact if you have employees with a low level of English, an emergency plan, SOP's, safety guidelines, and housing expectations

  1. Inerpreter Contact
    • Choose one individual who can get to know you, your employees, your farm, systems used, gereal job responsibilities of Spanish speaking employees.
    • Set up a contract/agreement with interpreter to ensure you and your employees can have access to interpretation as needed for day to day changes or issues, emergency situations, health care concerns, and issues relating to the home
  2. Signage/Bilingual Materials
    • Signs
      • Make sure all chemicals and cleaning liquids used by employees are marked clearly and use is identified
      • Any area marked for safety concerns should be marked in English and Spanish (Do Not Enter, Danger, etc)
    • Standard Operating Procedures
      • Use bilingual Standard Operating Procedures to detail exactly how you want each farm system completed (Milking System Cleaning Protocols, Milking Routine Protocols, Calf feeding Protocols, Calving Protocols)
    • Communication Tools
      • Make sure a dictionary is on hand in office. A bilingual farm dictionary would be best
      • Design farm specific bilingual day – to – day communication sheets in accordance with job and reporting responsibilities of the Spanish speaking employee(s). Mastitis detection and treatment, Dry cow treatment, Heat detection, and calving reports are examples of reporting that can be improved by communication tools.
  3. Designated Meeting & Training
    • In order to encourage and ensure open and effective communication employers should meet with their Spanish speaking employees at a minimum for monthly interpreted meetings. (Weekly farm meetings are often suggested regardless of whether a language barrier exists)
    • Employers or managers should have a training plan to identify and prioritize training topics that provide employees with not only the skills to perform their job well but also the knowledge about why protocols and guidelines are in place and the ability to more fully understand the work that they do. (Milking Procedures, Cleaning the Milking System, Farm safety, Mastitis detection, Mastitis treatment, Milk Quality, Skid steer use and safety, animal behavior, heat detection, Newborn calf care…)


Compensation: having a compensation system that motivates employees to do their best work, lend an extra hand when necessary and stay at the job long term

How you compensate your employees can help to determine how successful your employees are, how motivated they are and if they are willing to stay in your employment.Compensation is more than just the bottom line on a pay stub. It includes tangibles such as vacation days, benefits, and non-cash items such as housing or farm products.

Compensation is also how flexible you are in creating work schedules, incentive pay, bonuses, and assisting your employees to solve problems, such as daycare, which affect their work.

Part of your farm reputation as a good place to work rests solidly on your approach to compensation.

Firing With Dignity
Compensation for Milk Quality
Incentive Pay Book
Labor Management in Agriculture Book
Recruiting and Retaining Employees
Parlor Operator (milker) Sample Job Description
Human Resource Management and Dairy Employee Organizational Commitment
The Systems Approach to Dairy Process Management (PowerPoint File)
Detailing Clear Responsibilities on the Dairy
Training Milkers
Prodairy - Evaluate your Employee Training Prgrams
Managing Dairy Labor
Effective Training on Dairy
Everything You Need to Know About Human Resource Management but were Afraid to Ask
Whats in your Job Description - Doing AND Managing
Do You Direct or Correct?
Would You Want to Work for Yourself?
Handbook Outline
Wage Survey

Last modified October 26 2011 03:55 PM

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