When it comes to farm labour, there is a sweet spot between what farmers want from their workers and what workers want from their employers.
Most farmers want ad hoc labour, whereas workers they hire want stable, permanent, fulltime work.
For a long time the power was in the hands of the farmer, but with labour hard to come by these days, the tables have turned.
Now, farmers have to make their farms attractive and positive places to work, in the hope of bringing in some extra hands.
But is there more that could be done?
Shifting your focus from viewing labour as a short-term means to an end, to a long-term business investment could bring you close to that sweet middle spot.
Benefits to long-term perspective
There are many advantages to switching your focus from viewing labour as a short-term fix to a long-term one, the most notable of which being that it helps to maximise time efficiency.
Planning which tasks to outsource and when frees up a lot of time for the farmer. This time can be utilised a number of ways; maybe a trip away with family or finds is way in order, or perhaps some long-finger jobs have been on the back burner for a little too long.
This newly found free-time can allow you to focus on what could bring value to your farm. It could be an opportunity to upskill while somebody else manages the day-to-day.
For example, more time walking paddocks means more time to measure grass and to monitor growth, matching supply and demand. This means better utilisation and lower cost/kg of milk produced.
A long-term perspective doesn’t just free up time for you however, by having a plan in place with regards to safety and operating procedures you can ensure your worker gets straight to work and at the same time, reduce the possibilities of accidents, injury or damage.
Other advantages of long-term planning include regulatory cashflow (by having an annual or monthly budget) and developing strong supervisory procedures and skills in advance, increasing your odds of retaining employees.
Overall, if you have a plan in place, you will have higher outputs and lower costs, which should offset or even outweigh the cost of hiring resources.
Labour resource experts FRS Farm Relief recommends for farmers to seek advice when developing a workable plan for their particular resourcing needs.
This could be from a local FRS office, as the company is familiar with the labour market and the farming industry – both at home and overseas.
Farming is a multi-skilled role, requiring milking, animal husbandry, machinery and grassland management skills at a minimum. These people are harder to find and those who are in this category are looking for attractive rates of pay and sustainable year-round work.
What operators look for:
- An attractive salary;
- Reasonable hours;
- Local work;
- Planned rosters;
- Time off;
- Training and progession opportunities (a bonus);
- Oftentimes, simple recognition for a job well done.
FRS also offers a ‘shared operator’ approach whereby an operator is shared between two or more farms on a year-round basis.
This has the dual positive effect of sharing the cost of an operator between farmers and helping to guarantee more year-round work for the operator.
When you have farm labour
After a farm plan has been put in place and labour has been agreed on, there is more a farmer can do.
Plan work in advance
Ideally, your labourer will arrive and begin his or her tasks as soon as possible, take a set lunch, and should be able to work independently until the end of their shift.
This will maximise time efficiency on the farm, saving you money and allowing your energy to be focused elsewhere.
When planning these tasks, first prioritise what you would like that person to do and what you would like to do yourself with that time created as a result.
Always be conscious that others may take a slightly different approach to doing work – this will take adjustment and patience. Taking on a student or less experienced person is always an option too, should you have the time and skills to shadow and mentor.
Imperative to the above mentioned point is effective communication of your expectations.
Communication should be open, honest, clear and consistent – especially when handing over large and/or potentially dangerous tasks.
Make facilities as attractive and efficient
Part of the planning process should focus on reducing wasted time and avoidable tasks and make the role and facilities as attractive as possible – consider what facilities you have on farm that would attract and retain a farm worker:
- Is there a suitable place to wash hands and prepare for meals?
- Is there a suitable place to eat with the basics such as a small fridge, kettle and microwave?
- Are there suitable toilet facilities available on the farm?
- Are all equipment, machinery, gates, pens and buildings in a safe and working condition?
- Is the farm yard clean and tidy and free of hazards? Do I have standard operating procedures (SOPs) that I can give to prospective workers to show them how to carry out tasks? Are there farm maps and noticeboards in place on the farm?
- Do I have instructional photos or videos that I could send by text or WhatsApp to explain how to operate my milking parlour, milk tank, diet feeder etc?
Having a set plan in place for seeking, retaining and managing farm staff is key to the succesfull long-term running of a farm as a business.
Finding a farm worker can be difficult but having a positive attitude to work and treating workers with respect and courtesy as well as having your plans and preparation in order should make that task more efficient.