Build A Better Farm Business Team

05:00PM May 02, 2017
At AgriVision Farm Management’s headquarters in Hartley, Texas, Donald (right) and Cheri De Jong make mentoring their 400 employees a top priority.
( AgWeb )

The success of your operation now and in the future depends on your team, whether you have three employees or 300. How can you recruit, retain and engage the best people for your team? Farmers and management experts shared the following advice at the 2017 Top Producer Executive Network (TPEN) Signature Event, a members-only conference held this year in Phoenix. 

1. List why your farm is an awesome place to work.
Word-of-mouth recruiting is one of the best ways to find employees. But it will take more than a good recommendation to seal the deal. 

“You must create a culture people can get behind,” says Kevin Wulf, director of education for Riverview LLP, a diversified dairy, beef and crop operation that employs 900 people in Morris, Minn. “You have to give them a reason to be at your farm. Create a list of 20 or 30 reasons to come work at your farm.”

This is especially important for millennials, many of whom want a job with a mission and overall purpose that align with their beliefs.

2. Use a meticulous and clear interview process. 
When you have an open position, it can be tempting to fill it with the first person to say yes, especially if you are nearing a busy season. That’s the wrong attitude, says Will Feliz, president of Duncan Family Farms in Buckeye, Ariz.

Candidates who want to join the vegetable operation’s 500-employee team must go through multiple interviews with different people. “Even for entry-level leadership, it takes us almost 100 days to get someone in,” Feliz says.

3. Define career paths and opportunities. 
Almost all of the seven full-time and three part-time employees on Mike Yost’s grain farm in Murdock, Minn., are under 40. “They are interested in what their roles and responsibilities are going to be,” Yost says. “It is important to lay out what some of the opportunities might be down the road.”

4. Cross-train your team to increase productivity. 
Farm employees must know and understand multiple parts of the business. The more elements of the business an employee understands, the more value he or she can bring, Wulf explains. 

“We want our employees to grow horizontally,” he says. “For example, even though I work in human resources, I need to understand the financial part.”

Cross-training allows employees to find their niche. “It is helpful to think outside of the box so folks have the opportunity to find their passion,” Feliz says.

5. Don't avoid tough performance conversations
Inevitability, you will make a poor hire. If someone does not deliver on the job for which he or she was hired, you need to be clear about the performance gap and seek a solution, says Susan Drumm, CEO advisor and leadership coach at 

“Conversation is key,” Drumm says. “Your skill depends on your ability to have these tough conversations. You are the voice of your business.”

For example, if an employee continually arrives late, document the dates and issues. “When people jot it down, you get clarity about what’s going on and how often it is really occurring,” she says. 

Next, have a conversation about the issue with the employee. Share your perspective and explain how the employee’s poor performance is affecting the business. Get an agreement from the employee on the path forward. 

“Don’t end your conversation without setting a date when you will check back in,” she says. “This way, you have a specific period to determine if there is performance improvement or if you need to let the person go.”