Finding (and Keeping) Agricultural Employees in a Tight Labor Market

Collette Schultz

As the saying goes, good help is hard to find, and no where is this more true than the modern agriculture industry. The USDA College Graduate Employment Report found 39% of open agricultural jobs can’t be filled by graduating students. That means business owners and managers need to sharpen their skills at attracting and keeping the best talent to keep their businesses running. Here are our tips for hiring the best workers and keeping them on staff:

Finding employees:

Your strategies for finding employees to fill your open positions will vary based on your location and the skill level required. Mix and match these strategies for your next opening:

  • Look inward: Before going through the work of hiring a brand new employee, can you hire inside your organization? Reorganizing someone’s responsibilities, giving them additional training, and promoting from within are all ways you can use your current employees to fill your changing employment needs. You can also hire temporary interns or student help during a growing season to back up your management or staff with specialized skills so they aren’t pulled into the fields every day.
  • Include training in your hiring package: If you find a great applicant without the exact skills you need, but they come with a strong recommendation or a relevant work background, consider paying for the training they’d need to fit into the role. Often tech schools will offer in person or online courses at reasonable cost that can help round out a potential employee’s skill set.
  • Contract out: For skills that someone can do remotely, or temporarily, consider a temporary hire or contract employees. You can work with traditional work placement agencies or explore one of many online contracting databases. At AgCompass, we contract with many agricultural businesses that aren’t large enough to warrant their own on-site IT help. We help provide the backup and remote access services they need at a cost much lower than an on-site employee.

Catching their eye:

In a competitive labor market, hiring negotiations are as much about you appealing to applicants as they are to you.

  • Wages: If you haven’t updated your salary or hourly wages in several years, make sure to update your expected pay range before hiring. Ask colleagues in your industry what they pay their employees (adjusting their estimates for cost of living in their locations). You can also check sites like for reported pay for a variety of positions.
  • Fringe benefits: If you can’t be flexible on salary, consider what else you could offer. Could you offer flexible hours, additional time off, access to a health savings account, or other fringe benefits? You might have to be creative, but rounding out a hiring offer can help your position stand out.
  • A personal touch: For key hires, take the time to get to know your top applicants by having them tour your operation or attend a lunch with your staff. Not only will these encounters help you get to know applicants further, they will also help showcase your business and staff to potential hires.

Keeping them on staff:

A proactive investment in employee retention will keep your employees happy, productive, and in their jobs.

  • Manage well: Make sure you’re actively meeting with your employees, managing conflict, and advocating for their career growth. Set a work plan for each employee once a year so expectations and opportunities are clear to everyone involved, and stay actively involved in their growth. If you see an opportunity for them to stretch their skills in a new task or with a training, be sure to support them.
  • Don’t forget the parties: Celebrations and other fun events go a long way towards keeping your staff connected and feeling valued. Mark work anniversaries with cake and a plaque, or throw an end-of-season harvest party. Even a low-cost option like a grill out or potluck for staff and their families can help staff feel connected. You can also invite business partners or other key people to these events to build your public reputation and network.

A paycheck isn’t the only thing keeping your employees connected to your business. Using reliable HR techniques like the ones covered here can help you find and attract the best hires. By consistently creating a fair and supportive workplace for employees, and proactively investing in their skills, well-being, and careers, your employees will thrive – and so will your business!