Research in Progress: Unpacking the farm labor puzzle

Worker cutting lettuceOctober 2015.  One of the strategies new farmers often use to learn their craft is to observe and talk with other farmers that appear to be having success in similar operations. In fact, farmer-to-farmer learning has a very high preference score in nearly every aspect of farmer training.

In this research project, we are using the same principle to identify labor management practices. By interviewing experienced farmers who also appear to be effective labor managers we are learning about the process of recruiting, hiring, training and retaining the right employees.

Throughout the summer and fall our research team has been conducting interviews with farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As we collect their stories about what works and what doesn’t we’ll be looking for themes to emerge and building our next research phase from these findings.

In the meantime, no reason not to share a few of the pearls that have emerged from these interviews. So, a few keys to successful farm labor management from the experts in the field:

  • Be clear in your own mind about your business goals before you begin hiring.
  • Detailed job descriptions are critical. It sounds so obvious but an accurate, detailed job description is no simple matter.
  • Have prospective workers visit the farm so that you can meet with them face-to-face and observe them in your farm setting.
  • Do not expect farm workers to learn every aspect of the business right away. Manage the training so that the employee has time to master one activity before taking on something new.

Woman berry pickerStay tuned for more updates on this exciting project. And if you are a farmer that has successfully navigated the farm labor maze and you’d like to share your tips and strategies with us please contact us — we’d love to talk with you!

Thanks to all the farmers who gave us their time so generously in the heat of the growing season. You Rock!!

If you’d like to participate in this research project please email aglabor@uvm.edu

[In March 2014 UVM Extension, with several UVM research faculty and colleagues from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin was awarded a 3-year integrated research and extension grant to look at labor management practices on small and medium-sized farms. The goal of this project is to identify clusters of labor management practices that “successful” farmers are using and develop decision tools that make these tools more available to other farms.]

The research team:

  • Mary Peabody, UVM Extension
  • Jason Parker, UVM Plant and Soil Science
  • Kathleen Liang, UVM Community Development and Applied Economics
  • Seth Wilner, UNH Cooperative Extension
  • Carolyn Sachs, Pennsylvania State University
  • John Hendrickson, University of Wisconsin Extension
  • Beth Holtzman, UVM Extension
  • Monica Petrella, UVM Graduate Student

NIFA AFRI Award #2014-68006-21873

Advertisements

About Mary Peabody

Working with beginning farmers since 1994.
This entry was posted in Farm labor and human resources, Resources for Beginning Farmers. Bookmark the permalink.