And the Survey Says . . . Farm Labor & New Farm Development

A few weeks ago, the UVM New Farmer Project and Women’s Agricultural Network asked for your input on how farm labor challenges affect your businesses. You gave us quite an earful, and we couldn’t be more grateful! 

Milking GoatsOver 330 people responded to our survey, providing us with lots of data and new insights into labor challenges on small-scale and diversified farms. We’ll use your input to guide future programming, but in the meantime, we want to briefly share highlights of the survey results so far.

Comfort with “Being the Boss:” Overall, farmers who responded to the survey reported confidence in your ability to be “a good boss” and to create a positive work environment.

Your top 3 labor challenges? Managing employees efficiently; training employees to work independently, and finding skilled labor. “I spend spend too much time holding hands, not enough time with big picture stuff,” one farmer reported.

Survey responses also revealed farmers’ frustration with finding and keeping good employees, and with keeping up with insurance and regulatory issues associated 9151434283_f8279d71c0with being a farm employer.

In open-ended comments, a number of you shared concerns about the cost of labor and your desire to pay workers a fair wage.  “I won’t have employees or apprentices until I can pay them appropriately for their labor,” explained one farmer.

Profitability & Quality of Life Dimensions: About a third of survey respondents indicated that the costs and/or stress associated with managing employees takes a significant toll — on farm finances and on farmers’ quality of life. “Labor seems to be everyone’s biggest stress,” observed one respondent. But about  two thirds of you indicated that you believe that  employees make positive contributions to your farms.

Judging from the survey, farm labor is emerging as an important business management9151551797_fba777358a concern for new farmers. While less than half of aspiring farmers said that employees were definitely part of their vision for their farm, the majority of beginning farmers have employees, and many of them are hiring labor early in their business development.  About 72 percent of beginning farmers (less than 10 years commercial farm experience) who answered the survey reported having employees, and about 57 percent of those with less than 3 years commercial experience have employees.

As one respondent said: “We have to do more to figure this out.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Your thoughts? We’re interested in your insights and observations on this topic. Leave a comment below or email us at


About Beth Holtzman

Beth Holtzman is outreach and education coordinator for the UVM New Farmer Project the Women's Agricultural Network.
This entry was posted in Farm labor and human resources, Financial Mgmt. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to And the Survey Says . . . Farm Labor & New Farm Development

  1. Deb Heleba says:

    Brilliant, Beth and team!! This is fantastic (both in terms of sharing results with participants, and the results themselves)!!

  2. Naomi Scanlon says:

    I raise garlic and sheep. I have maintained a flock of up to 20 and a fat 1/4 acre which is what I can handle myself with some scrounged help, usually husband and children. I only need help 3 times a year – planting in Oct, weeding June-July and harvesting in Aug. However, these are also times most growers need all of their help. Trying to find help is a definite issue. Extended family usually cover planting and harvesting. I have tried teenagers and they are good if I am with them ALL the time and that’s if they show up and for usually only a couple days maybe a week. I have tried paying as high as $15 per hour, thinking it a great incentive (evidently not). Although I am 62, the work has proved too much for other “retired age” workers, so those I hesitate to use.

    It seems I need to expand in order to hire! That makes it a whole different business. Or, I have thought that a “pool” of part-time help would be great.

  3. Garland Mason says:

    Reblogged this on What's Growin' On and commented:
    Check out the results of the farm labor survey sent out last month by UVM’s New Farmer Project!

Comments are closed.