Learning how to effectively recruit, hire, train and retain workers is a critical farm management skill. The right employees doing the right tasks can take your farm to the next level of profitability. This site contains tips, tools and techniques to get you on the right track.


Hired farmworkers make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but play an essential role in U.S. agriculture. Wages, salaries, and contract labor expenses represent roughly 17 percent of total variable farm costs and as much as 40 percent of costs in labor-intensive crops such as fruit, vegetables, and nursery products.

Getting Started

Busy desk with laptops, reports and sticky notes


One of the first considerations in hiring is the economic analysis. Common questions you should be asking yourself include:

  • Will hiring someone increase my sales or efficiency enough to cover the full cost of the employee?
  • Have I reviewed the costs and benefits of the various types of labor available to me?
  • Am I in a financial position to offer a competitive wage and benefit package?
several pairs of boots lined up on a patio

Social and Cultural Context

Although it may not occur to you at first there are multiple ways that hiring labor for your farm will impact your farm and family systems. Common questions you should ask include:

  • Do I have a clear vision of where I'd like my farm to be in five years?
  • Is my family supportive of bringing new employees into the farm system?
  • Do I have children or other family members that are expecting employment from me?
  • Do I have specific tasks could be done by an employee?
two people in a field reviewing a paper

Management Mindset for Success

Do you have the skills and the personality to be a great boss? Again, some question to guide your thinking.

  • Am I prepared to spend time managing an employee knowing this will take me away from my own farm work?
  • Do I understand the legal considerations in hiring different types of labor?
  • Do I have the management pieces in place (job descriptions, policy manuals, recordkeeping systems)?


The Farm Labor Dashboard has been supported by three USDA grant projects (USDA Award Numbers 2023-70027-40447, 2021-49400-35641, 2014-69006-21873 and 2018-69006-28096).

  • Building Human Risk Management Know-How Among Women & Beginning Farmers (2023-70027-40447), which began in April 2024, is providing education and outreach to help participants develop leadership, communication and decision-making skills, that will help them implement ergonomic, injury prevention, safety and wellness practices that are critical to keeping everyone who works on the farm safe, satisfied, and productive. 
  • Building Labor Management Know-How Among Beginning Farmers (USDA Award 2021-49400-35641) is providing programs and resources to help beginning farmers build labor management skills and confidence, and adopt employee recruitment, supervision and retention practices that improve farm business performance and/or farmer satisfaction with quality of life. Informed by recent research and direct farmer input, project activities target producers from regions in the Midwest and Northeast where labor challenges constrain post start-up farmers’ ability to scale up their farm businesses. The project is working to build labor management competencies among all beginning farmer participants and is specifically designed to meet the needs of women. Female operators, an historically under-served farm audience that now represent 41% of all US beginning farmers, typically have both overlapping and different content needs and delivery preferences than their male counterparts.
  • Improving the Quality of Labor Management Decisions for Small and Medium-sized Farm Operators (USDA Award Number: 2014-68006-21873) examined relationships between household needs, farm structure, and market forces to understand how farmers can better anticipate the amount and type of labor needed to attain their goals. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the team examined how farmer decisions around labor relate to existing farm structure, management style and market channels, development stage of the farm, and life stage of the family. The team used that information to develop an innovative decision-support dashboard to assist farmers in addressing their labor needs.
  • Improving Labor Management Decisions on Small And Medium Sized Farms (USDA Award number 2018-69006-28096) focuses on the relationships between the existing labor pool(s), opportunities for mechanization, adoption of emerging technologies, and the level of employee skills and qualifications that best enable farmers to identify an optimal mix of labor needed to attain their business goals. The research components of this project are examining how farm labor approaches align with the farm operator's goals, attitudes toward mechanization and technology adoption, management style and market channels. The research is also examining how different strategies align with farmers' age, sex, and education level. Research findings will support development of additional decision-support tools and educational resources for farmers, all of which will be located on the existing farm labor dashboard.