Acquiring top farm talent through new-to-agriculture strategies



We recently posted a new episode of our Mind Your Farm Business podcast that focuses on human resource management. In conversation with four farmers across Canada we dug deep into topics like recruiting talent and methods to retaining the top performers. Not only were the farmers from a diverse geographic region, but their strategies for managing the people-side of the business were unique, too.

Some farmers rely on finding local farm kids, some look to other geographies within Canada, and still others look abroad by recruiting farm labour from Central America, Europe, or Australia. There is no right answer to finding good help, but the objective is the same — farmers need to find farm workers that will do the job properly.

In conversation with farmers across the country the recruitment drive is varied. Some farms use their corporate mission (organic or free-range production) to attract ideologically-aligned employees. Some use farm size and the opportunity to run large machinery on large tracts of land as a draw. Other farms market their operation as a place to launch a career and not just a job.

Considering all of this, it would be foolish of me to make this all seem easy. Access to farm labour has become a major limitation for farmers in Canada. The reassuring fact is that we are not alone.

In a recent Washington Post story by Dannielle Paquette, BNSF is described as having some of the same recruitment challenges as many of you. Due to a strong labour market and other factors, the railway is offering signing bonuses as a way to attract employees.

This year, BNSF Railway, one of the country’s largest freight railroads, aims to hire 3,500 workers across the United States — a challenge at a time when employers nationwide say they are struggling to fill vacancies. So, BNSF is offering something rare in blue-collar America: signing bonuses up to $25,000 for hourly workers, including electricians, boilermakers and pipefitters.

This signing bonus strategy is one that is much more common in the corporate suite or in sports and not in farming or blue collar industries like manufacturing or railways.

When the hiring market is tight it requires new innovative ideas and to me this is one. With appropriate strings attached, a signing bonus program could be an interesting employee acquisition strategy in agriculture for the right kind of employee. It opens up other possible concepts that we have not seen in the past in agriculture as well. What about retention bonuses, post secondary education subsidization, or profit share programs?

There are some limiting factors for farmers to get too creative, such as seasonal employment, traditionally a lower skilled workforce than other blue collar industries, thin profit margins, and type of work involved, but I, for one, think the opportunity is there.

Could some of these new-to-agriculture methods work or is agriculture too different than other blue collar industries like railways or the oilfield? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at [email protected].

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