Learning how to hire farm workers properly is a must, as running an agricultural business means you need specialized farmhands. Whether it’s an equipment operator or someone to help with a nursery, you first 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.
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Step 1: Evaluate Your Current Workers
Before you think about bringing in new farm workers, evaluate your current employees first. This could help you identify whether you need to provide training on new equipment or technologies, or hiring additional staff to assist with specific tasks. There are a number of ways to assess your current employees:
- Conduct performance reviews. Performance reviews are a great way to get feedback on your workers’ performance, identify areas where they are excelling, and discuss areas where they need to improve. Learn how to approach this process in our guide to handling performance reviews.
- Conduct a survey. You can provide a survey to get your workers’ feedback on the farm, including their job satisfaction, what they like and dislike about their work, and what they think could be improved. Check out our downloadable employee survey templates—we provide one directed specifically about employee satisfaction.
- Observe your workers on the job. Watch your workers as they work and pay attention to their skills, efficiency, and safety practices.
- Talk to your workers informally. Get to know your workers on a personal level and talk to them about their goals, aspirations, and any challenges they may be facing.
Once you have evaluated your current employees, you can start to develop a plan for addressing any needs and filling gaps in your workforce.
Step 2: 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 farmwork.
On 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 the steps outlined here. You should still call references and conduct background checks, especially if it’s been a few years since they last worked for you.
Also, if you are tempted to hire family members to make for faster hiring, keep in mind that it can still lead to trouble. What happens if they don’t cut it? What if other workers see them taking advantage of their relationship with you? Unless you’re desperate for help, hiring family members often isn’t worth the trouble.
Step 3: 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.
Here are the basic items to include in your job description—check our guide on how to write a job description for specifics on detailing each one:
- Job title
- Type of employee (full time, part time, temporary, seasonal)
- Job location, if applicable
- Exempt status
- Wage or salary range
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for farm workers is $33,290. 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 4: 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 workers—and to get set up, you’ll need to locate your local 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:
Step 5: 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 6: 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 7: Call References
Make sure to get at least three supervisory references from each applicant and conduct a reference check. 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.
Step 8: 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 9 (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.
If you’re planning on proceeding with this, make sure to create a background check policy to ensure that it’s uniform across roles. You can also check our top recommended background check providers to help you out.
Hiring Farm Workers From Other Countries
According to NPR, there’s a shortage of farm workers in the United States; thus, recruiting farm workers has become a challenge in recent years. To help farm owners address this situation, the United States created the H-2A Visa Program, which allows American farm owners to hire people from other countries to do temporary or seasonal work. This program is not limited to farm owners only but also to those who own plantations, orchards, ranges, ranches, nurseries, and similar agricultural operations.
To hire overseas farm workers, employers must first obtain certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. This process involves demonstrating that there is a shortage of domestic workers available to fill the jobs, and that the employer is offering fair wages and working conditions. Once the employer has been certified, they can file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to bring foreign workers to the United States.
The H-2A program has a number of requirements that employers must meet, including providing workers with housing, transportation, and other essential needs. Employers must also comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including those related to minimum wage, overtime pay, and workplace safety.
Hiring overseas farm workers can be a complex process, but it can be a good option for farmers who are struggling to find domestic workers. There are a number of resources available to help employers navigate the process, including the U.S. Department of Labor and USCIS.
How to Hire a Farm Hand Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
While the answer depends on the type of farm worker you need, there are general skills to look for, including driving a tractor, milking cows, mowing, and repair & maintenance skills.
According to the US Department of Labor, you can hire young students 16 years and above, provided they do so outside school hours. More so, the farm should be owned by their parents or those standing as guardians.
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.