This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
This guide will teach you how to hire farm workers, since running an agricultural business means you need specialized farmhands. Whether it’s an equipment operator or someone to help with a nursery, you need to understand what you need the worker to do so you can make the best hire. Then, you’ll create a job ad, evaluate resumes, interview candidates, and make a job offer.
Step 1: Determine the Type of Farm Worker You Need
To help you determine the type of farm worker you need and to narrow down your search, here are some examples of common farm workers and what they do:
- Agricultural workers are generally responsible for loading, herding, branding, and caring for farm animals. Some may collect eggs and milk, while others may focus on the animals’ health.
- Laborers harvest vegetables, fruits, trees, nuts, and any other crops. They also plant, seed, harvest, and load these crops for sale.
- Greenhouse and nursery workers focus on preparing the land or greenhouse for seeds to plant flowers, trees, sod, and any other plants. They are also in charge of watering, planting, weeding, pruning, and generally keeping the plants healthy.
- Animal breeders are more scientific, using their knowledge of genetics to select and breed the strongest and healthiest animals to produce offspring with specific characteristics. They must also keep detailed records about each animal and the offspring.
- Graders and sorters inspect any products leaving the farm and ensure the products meet safety standards and can be sold to companies or the public.
You’ll need to pay close attention to the candidate’s safety records and their approach to farm safety throughout your hiring process. It is also important to note that you cannot hire minors for hazardous farm work.
Hiring People You Know & Family Members
Good people know good people. Over time, you’ll develop relationships with great farm workers, some of whom you’ll hire back season after season. But even if you’re familiar with a worker, we don’t recommend skipping all the steps outlined here.
In a perfect world, you could skip Steps 3, 4, and 5—but you should still call references, especially if it’s been a few years since the farm worker worked for you. You should absolutely make a formal offer for your company records, as well.
On a tangent, if you are tempted to hire family members as it can make for faster hiring, keep in mind that it can lead to trouble. What happens if they don’t cut it? What if other workers see them taking advantage of their relationship to you? Unless you’re desperate for help, hiring family members often isn’t worth the trouble.
Step 2: Create a Job Description & Determine Salary
Now that you’ve determined the type of worker you need, it’s time to turn that knowledge into a job description. You’ll need to create a detailed job description, which discusses the duties and qualifications needed to make someone successful. It will be the basis of your job ad, so make it as detailed as possible. Be sure to include the following:
- Job title
- Type of employee (full time, part time, temporary, seasonal)
- Job location, if applicable
- Exempt status
- Wage or salary range
Need to create an employment application? Use our free job application template.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for farm workers is $29,680. Depending on the state where you’re hiring, you may be required to put a salary or wage range in the public job ad, so figure out your budget.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) also governs farm workers, so you’re required to pay at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. However, there are exceptions to minimum wage and overtime. These include:
- Family members
- Workers primarily engaged in production of livestock
- Local hand harvesters commuting from their permanent residence every day and working fewer than 13 weeks in a calendar year
- Small farms using fewer than 500 “man days” (which is any day an employee performs farm work for at least one hour) in any quarter of the prior year
- Non-local minors 16 or under who are hand harvesters and paid the same rate as those over 16
Related Article: Top Salary Comparison Tools
Step 3: Advertise & Recruit
Your job ad comes from your job description, so there will be similarities. But before you post your ad, you need to add information about your company’s culture and benefits.
Farm workers want to know that your farm is a safe place for them to work and what benefits you offer. While farm worker benefits tend to lag behind other industries, your employees still expect some—like healthcare.
If you can pay a portion of your employees’ healthcare premiums as a fringe benefit, that may help you attract even more workers. Additionally, if you have seasonal workers or workers tending to massive areas of land, consider providing a place for them to live. This is an exceptional benefit to farm workers.
Word-of-Mouth, Referrals & Flyers
In the farm industry, many of your hires are made by word-of-mouth. This often comes in the form of referrals from other farm owners you may know. While this is one of the best ways to make a new hire, make sure you still follow the steps we listed to do your due diligence.
When you’re in a small farm town, you can also post flyers—a great way to attract local candidates. Put your farm name, a brief description of the work you need done, and your phone number for potential workers to call.
Online Agricultural Resources
When you’re ready to post your job, use the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) farmers.gov website, which lets you post job ads and provides you with information relevant to your business.
Another great resource is the Agricultural Recruitment System (ARS). Its goal is to help farm employers recruit qualified farm workers, and to get set up, you’ll need to locate your American Job Center (AJC). You’ll post your job there and, if you cannot find any local farm workers, the AJC will expand to a statewide search, and then to a nationwide search. This service is great for helping you get the right farm worker.
You might also want to try a free job board—but you probably won’t find outstanding success there. Farm workers don’t frequently use job boards because the vast majority of these jobs are unrelated to their work. However, you can try farm-specific job boards, such as
Compliance tip: Depending on the state where you’re hiring farm workers, you may be barred from asking them about prior salary. Check out our article on salary history bans.
Step 4: Evaluate Resumes
Reviewing applications will take time, but resume screening is crucial to ensure you hire the right farm worker. To help you better evaluate the resumes, create a must-haves list, which includes three to five essential skills or experience an applicant needs to be successful in this role.
Don’t expect perfection—no candidate will match up perfectly with your job description. Pick what’s crucial to the role and eliminate anyone who doesn’t check off some or most of the criteria.
After your job ad has received enough applications, narrow the list of candidates to the most qualified, keeping fewer than a dozen. These are the candidates you’ll want to talk to further.
Step 5: Interview Candidates
Call the candidates to schedule interviews. Sure, it’s easier to email them, but by calling them, you gauge their interest in the position and can ask a few quick screening questions. You also get a feel for their cultural fit within your organization.
The questions you need to ask will vary depending on the position and the level of experience. No matter what, conducting a structured interview will let you evaluate candidates fairly. It also helps you avoid prohibited topics, like race, age, and sexual orientation.
Here are some general questions to get you started:
- What responsibilities have you had on a farm?
- What’s the most difficult experience you’ve had on a farm?
- How do you ensure you and your colleagues stay safe?
- What tools and equipment have you worked with before?
- How do you handle changes on a farm (equipment, personnel, work duties)?
Asking these questions of every candidate will help you evaluate them based on their answers to the same questions. But don’t let this brief list limit your discussion. Listen carefully to the answers given, ask follow-up questions, and be sure to engage in a fruitful discussion.
Related Article: How to Interview an Applicant
Step 6: Call References
Whether you have narrowed your list down to your top choice or are having trouble deciding between two or three candidates, get at least three supervisory references from each applicant. Speaking with their past supervisors gives you insight into how they do their job and what it’s like to supervise them.
You’ll have limited time with each reference, so make sure you’re prepared with targeted questions.
- How did the candidate perform their job?
- Are they reliable?
- Why did the candidate leave your farm?
- What was it like managing this candidate?
- Would you rehire this candidate?
Make sure you listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions. You want to dig beneath the surface and get a better understanding of the employee’s abilities.
Compliance tip: Safety is crucial to farm work, so you may be tempted to ask a reference about any injuries the applicant suffered. Some states prohibit these questions, so check your state rules before going down that road.
Step 7: Craft the Job Offer
When you’ve decided which candidate to hire, deliver the news over the phone so that you can gauge their interest level. This also gives you time to discuss any last details, like start date and salary.
Once you and the candidate have agreed to all the terms, write a formal offer letter. Make sure it includes
- Job title
- Salary and pay frequency
- Start date
- Reporting structure
Include the full job description with the offer letter. Having the candidate sign off on their ability to handle the job’s duties lets you more easily hold them accountable if they don’t meet your expectations. Send the offer letter to the candidate and give them several days to review, sign, and send it back. Once you’ve received the signed offer letter, it’s time to begin the onboarding process.
Step 8 (Optional): Run a Background Check
Unless your farm worker will have supervisory responsibilities or access to sensitive information and financial details, you can probably skip this section.
If you need to run a background check, however, get the applicant’s written permission first. If you use a background check provider, it can give you a template form to use. The background check will give you details about the candidate’s criminal history and, if they’re going to have financial access, any information about their personal finances. Ultimately, this is an extra safeguard to make sure you’re hiring the right employee.
Compliance tip: In some states, you have to make a formal job offer before running a background check. Your offer can be contingent upon a clear background check result. Check your state rules to make sure you’re compliant.
Understanding how to hire farm workers requires you to target your search. Using government programs could make it easier to find qualified talent, but you can also post your job on general job boards. Ultimately, following a clear and structured hiring process will ensure you make the right choice for your hire.