Finding sufficient farm labor has been a problem pre- and post-pandemic. Whether you have some, or a lot of difficulty finding permanent and temporary ag workers, a few tips could help you attract and keep qualified workers at your operation. We work with growers of all shapes, sizes, and crops. Here are a few suggestions from them that may help some of your labor pains.
Pay by Weight
If you are not paying by weight for your high-value crops, this may appeal to temporary workers who harvest fruits and vegetables. In 2020, a blueberry grower in Georgia implemented the FairPick scale systems for their harvest. After encountering some bottleneck issues (weighing does take a little bit more time), the grower decided to take the scales out of operation. Instead, they used the FairTrak app with handhelds to only log and pay by the bucket. Although harvest was smooth, it was not long before we heard that scales will be put back out in the field in 2022. Why? The pickers are almost demanding it. They like the FairPick’s transparency and its accuracy. No questions about full buckets, no favoritism, and still simple to use. Although there is an upfront investment, the system often pays for itself in a season because of the labor savings. Happy workers are a bonus, which leads me to…
It is not new for growers to offer bonuses on top of regular piece wage or hourly earnings. Several growers went one step further this harvest to offer bonuses on piecework only if the employee stayed to the last day of harvest. This final day work requirement was a great incentive to stay at one farm. For the grower, picker reliability increased, and knowing that the same people would keep coming back each day was much-needed peace of mind. This attendance bonus was an extra rate per pound or piece harvested that was added onto the final paycheck, but only if the employee met the last day criteria. Employee turnover costs time and money and ready-to-pick produce just cannot wait on the bushes or trees.
Make the Job Easier
We have all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Implementing time-saving tech and automation not only improves efficiency (you get more done faster) but makes the job easier. An employee is more likely to do a job that requires less know-how, less physical exertion, and is simple to do. For most of us, using a smart phone is second nature. In a time where “there’s an app for that,” it might be time to explore technology “shortcuts” that make a worker’s job easier to do, whether that be in the field or in the office. Minimize manual data entry, paperwork, and streamline communication. Even start thinking about new ways to make finding a job at your farm easier. There are several digital platforms out there now that better connect farmers with farm workers.
There is no cure all for the labor pains that the ag industry continues to face. Like any business, you can take small steps to make your farm more desirable—besides increasing base hourly and piece wages. Start getting creative and find the right tools and incentives for the job.