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Ag's HR Coach                 06/26 05:53

   Maximizing Human Capital in a Slow Season

   An unusually large number of acres will go unplanted this year, leaving 
farmers with less work for their employees. Rather than lay people off, here 
are a few ways you can keep them engaged and making positive contributions to 
the farm. 

By Lori Culler
DTN HR Columnist

    It's the end of June, and there are still too many acres without crops in 
the ground. Our farm started in 1941, and according to my father's impeccable 
record keeping, this is the latest time of year we have planted and the worst 
spring conditions we have seen on the farm. 

   The unpredictable weather and temperatures have created a variety of 
problems for farmers. Not all of us have our crops in, nor will all of us get 
everything planted this season. 

   While it depends on the situation, temporary layoffs should be avoided as 
best you can. With the low unemployment rate and difficulty in hiring talent, 
it is more costly to lay off employees for one to two months than it is to 
search, hire and train new employees when you do need them. 

   Whether you have downtime this summer from lack of planting or you are 
battling the usual labor surplus between planting and harvest, there are a few 
ideas to maximize your human capital and accomplish much-needed tasks on the 
farm to keep everything progressing in a positive direction.


   It might be time to reorganize the farm shop. As time goes on, materials and 
tools can get misplaced and used parts stacked up. Before long, nothing is in 
its proper place, and it can be difficult to find the right parts. The 
disorganization of the shop costs both time in inefficiency and money when you 
can't locate a part you know you have on hand. Before you even begin moving 
pieces and parts, establish a plan for what you want the shop to look like. 
Research ideas online for organization.

   Although it isn't practiced as much in agriculture, 5S shadow boards and 
organization techniques they use in large maintenance organizations could 
easily be implemented on the farm. If you have metal shelving, consider using 
magnetic labels so everyone knows where you would like things to go. Low-cost 
items such as commercial bin racks only cost $150-$300. Including your entire 
team on the project will help to get their buy-in and support to keep it more 
orderly going forward. 


   Extra downtime is the perfect time for employees to learn new skills. 
Whether you send your employees to classes, workshops or seminars, they will 
appreciate the ability to expand their knowledge, and your farm will benefit 
from what they bring back to apply to the farm. Consider classes in supervising 
employees, lean agricultural practices or on-farm safety. Perhaps it's time to 
send them to more agronomy and crop-science classes. If you are simply looking 
to add knowledge depth to your team, cross training on the farm also has its 
benefits. It's low cost and the training is on-site.


   If you rent the land you farm, it's critical to continually build upon your 
relationship with your landlord. Get in touch with your landlord to see what 
else they are looking for in the partnership. They might ask for simple 
improvements or changes such as getting ditches cleaned out or stone added to 
an entrance that your team could work on.

   You could also utilize your team to host the landlords on-site. Take them on 
a tour of the farm, meet the team, go over where your farm is heading and 
answer any questions. The more interaction your landlords have with you, your 
team and your farm, the more likely they are to feel connected to your 
operation, come to you with problems and remain loyal when a neighboring farmer 
knocks on their door. 


   Volunteering in the community is a great way to connect and increase 
visibility. Hosting a community day shows what your farm has to offer. Also, 
consider having your team volunteer at a local event or partner with another 
agribusiness to host a dual event. An added bonus: Events are a great way to 
meet more people in your community who could be potential future on-farm 

   The most important idea to maximize your team's talents during downtime is 
actually very simple: Ask! Ask your employees about what they'd like to do. 
More often than not, they're more willing to work if they get to choose their 
work. For example, if you have an employee with technology experience, they may 
be willing to help with the website and social media.

   Keep the farm progressing, keep the morale up and get the team involved on 
low-cost initiatives that will benefit the farm years to come.


   Editor's Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the 
founder of AgHires (, a national employment recruiting 
service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email and find other labor management tips under Resources at 


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