Survey on Wisconsin farm employers and employees

Wisconsin agriculture is a $59.16 billion industry that supports 10 percent, or nearly 354,000, of the state’s workforce. The more than 76,400 people employed directly by Wisconsin farms have varied backgrounds, skills, education and experience, and wages and benefits received according to a study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Extension Farm and Risk Management (FARM) Team.

The study looked at human resource management on farms including how farm labor is recruited, retained and compensated, and found that on average, farms in the survey hired three new, non-family employees in the previous year. Many farms hire a mix of employees with different background characteristics such as immediate family members, non-family teenagers and/or adults, and immigrant employees. Eighty-one percent of the farms recruit employees via word of mouth, of current employees (43 percent), or friends/neighbors (29 percent), and consultants (9 percent).

Even though hiring outside labor is becoming more commonplace on Wisconsin farms, few actually implement basic human resource management practices, typical of most industries. Farm managers were asked what their biggest challenges were in terms of human resource management. “Communication barriers” was identified as the biggest labor management issue on farms with twenty-three percent of survey respondents. Hiring and recruiting employees (15 percent), training employees (13 percent), and dealing with employee conflicts (13 percent) were other challenges that ranked high with farm employers.

Evaluating and rewarding employee performance is a basic aspect of human resource management, and yet it is very inconsistently executed among farm managers. When asked whether farms perform regular performance reviews with employees, only 42 percent of managers responded that they do. Sixty-nine percent of the survey respondents do not have an employee handbook and 57 percent do not have written standard operating procedures for employees.

Farm managers face a unique challenge in human resource management in that the majority of their employees may be of a cultural background and speak a language different than their own. These differences lead to labor management issues, primarily in the form of communication.  Employment materials, such as schedules and procedures, need to be translated into Spanish.  Written materials alone may not be sufficient as employees may have lower educational levels and be unable to read Spanish.

Farm employers take many factors into consideration when determining a farm employee’s wages; these include the type of position on the farm, whether the position requires experience or inexperience, and the region of the state. Not surprisingly, there were significant differences between the starting rates of pay for experienced and inexperienced workers for all the job categories of the survey. The average starting wage varied with the job performed and the worker’s experience (Figure 1). For both the inexperienced and experienced workers, the highest paid job on the farm is herdsman at $11.42 and $14.31 per hour, respectively.

Besides wages, farm employers offer compensation in the form of fringe benefits and bonuses. Thirty-six percent of farm employers offer a bonus or incentive plan to their employees. Of those who offer a plan, 59 percent base it on the somatic cell count (SCC). For others, they base it on such factors as other herd health and milk quality factors, and Christmas. Some other factors are work productivity/ job performance, attitude, dependability, time worked, and loyalty.

Vacation, sick leave, holidays, and personal time are usually offered. Seventy-three percent of farms offered other forms of compensation for their employees such as housing, free dairy products or meat, and continuing education.

The series of factsheets on this survey is a product of the Human Resource Management Workgroup of the FARM (Farm and Risk Management) Team of the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

For more information about the factsheet series, visit the FARM Team Website: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/farmteam/workgroup/humanresource/

This story published by UW Cooperative Extension