How to find, hire and keep great farm workers
Updated: Sep 26
So you want to hire a few people for your farm. Finding the right person for the job is hard for any business but it is especially hard to find good help on the farm.
Farmhands need to be very reliable workers, very loyal (and stick around for the whole season) and don't mind a bit of manual labor and dirt. Some other things that you might want in your farm laborers are a can-do attitude where they are not afraid to try new things and a logical way of thinking so they can figure things out on their own. Do you have a few more you'd like to add to the list? Write them all down so that you can communicate that to your team who might be interviewing. Hiring for your farm doesn't have to be a chore. Here are a few tips to help you find the best farm workers and field hands.
Provide farm worker candidates with clear expectations
Give the low-down on the job and your expectations. If you're able to communicate what they need to accomplish and what is expected you can find out a few important things.
Do they have the skills you need?
Are they the right person for the job?
Are they are going to be happy working for you?
Are they going to stay? (so you don't have to repeat this process as often.)
Develop a farm worker hiring plan
Before you start talking to any candidates, it's always good idea to develop a hiring plan that outlines the number of workers you need, when you needed them, how long you'll need them, and key skills they are required to have.
Here is a list of steps to take before you have your first interview:
Define the job: Make a list of qualifications needed and tasks that you are needing to be done, as well as any physical labor requirements.
Review your financial plan and budget for the season and settle on hourly rates.
Define your hiring plan and schedule and determine how much lead time you need to find the right workers.
Make sure you have all your company legal documents up to date and you are able to hire someone.
Will they be a contractor? A W-4 or W-2 employee? - Know the laws and requirements for different worker types and how they might effect you.
Do you plant to sponsor H2A visas for for seasonal or temporary workers?
Are these volunteer / WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) opportunities?
Create an employment application that they fill out during the interview.
Have a follow up plan and timeline for hiring.
What does the interview process look like? Who are they meeting with?
Develop and document a training plan that covers farm operations, day-to-day responsibilities for the role and any key safety and compliance requirements.
Promoting your farm worker positions
In order to find the workers you need it's important to promote the positions you're looking to fill. Depending on where your farm is located and the types of roles you need to fill there are various resources online to help with promoting and souring season farm workers. These range from online classifieds like Craigslist to job boards, like Indeed or farm job boards to using new online tools for gig workers and WWOOFing specific sites. Do your research for your region and talk to other local farmers to see what's worked best for them.
Interviewing and testing for motivation
It's important that you find the person who is best suited for this job. That might not be a close friend or even a friend of a friend. Lots of people will tell you whatever you want to hear to get the job but you should make sure that they are motivated to work in this type of job and have the qualifications.
Here are some possible questions to ask:
Of course you want to talk about the job and a potential farm employee is qualified for the job but there is a lot more that you can find out and save yourself many hassles down the road.
Go over the application with them and ask questions about past jobs, time off and other things that are listed.
Have you ever done this type of work before? Go over the jobs they sited on their resume. Ask questions and get them talking about the job, what they liked, what they didn't, why they left.
What skills and experiences set you apart from other applicants?
What was the hardest day you've had working on a farm before? How did you handle it? What did you learn?
What was one of your favorite jobs doing farm work?
What are your expectations of this job? Expand and talk about the things that they talk about and anything that comes up that concerns you.
What are your expectations of your boss/co-workers/anyone else they will be working with?
Do you have a reliable vehicle to get to work?
How long are you looking to hold this job? (Talk about seasonal work if needed)
How have you succeeded at your job in the past? And when have you failed (and how did you handle it?)
It's also good to note what questions you are not allowed to ask. Things like age and race are off limits. Here is a helpful list of questions that are off limits to ask.
Provide follow up plan and next steps
It's a good plan to know when you're going to follow up with candidates (and how) before you start interviewing.
When will you be getting back to applicants?
What can they expect?
What is the process?
When do you need to them start?
Do you have a good contact number for them?
If someone nailed the interview and they meet all your key requirements, there's no reason to wait to make them an offer. It's better to hire a great worker on the spot than potentially losing them to someone else.
Be prepared for your new team
There are many resources out there that give information on hiring and firing. Here is a link to a guide that covers farm hiring from A to Z and tackles many of the hard parts of hiring/firing.
The guide covers:
Farm worker hiring
Farm worker on-boarding and training
Finally be part of the team. Sure, you're the boss but it shows a lot if you work a long side your employees at times. You could also plan employee fun time (when there's time) to bond as a team and show your employees that you care. Best of luck with hiring for the coming growing season!