Finding skilled workers is increasingly difficult for Nebraska farm and ranch operators. Labor shortages and problems add delays, costs, and increased stress for operations. Nebraska Farm Bureau’s first Inside Profitability webinar for 2022, held Jan. 18, focused on labor issues in agriculture. Joe Horner, Alice Roach, and Ryan Milhollin, University of Missouri extension educators and authors of the Missouri Farm Labor Guide, discussed current labor conditions and best practices producers can employ in hiring, onboarding, and retaining workers. Cherie Priest, Brown County Farm Bureau member and Office Manager of Rolling Stone Feedyards, discussed the H-2A, foreign guest worker program.
Horner noted labor shortages in rural areas are especially acute. Counties in rural Nebraska have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Figure 4, from Horner’s presentation, shows many Nebraska counties have rates below 1.0 percent, meaning nearly every eligible worker is employed. Lack of workers and wage inflation have pushed agricultural worker wages higher, exceeding $16/hour last year.
Figure 4. November 2021 Unemployment Rates
Roach said a Farm Journal survey showed farmers are mostly competing with other farmers and local manufacturers for workers. As such, producers need to be aware of prevailing wages in the area to compete. Roach also offered several tips for recruiting, hiring, and onboarding the right worker. Milhollin noted many farm employers do not offer traditional worker benefits like health insurance, paid time off, or sick days. However, nearly half of farm employers offer gifts, like meat, as a benefit. Turnover for farm help can be as high as 25 percent and Milhollin offered several ideas for retaining and incenting employees.
Priest said the difficulty in finding local workers turned her feedlot towards using the federal H-2A foreign guest worker program. While the program a tremendous amount of paperwork, Priest said it’s worth it. The workers she has hired through the program have been valuable and productive employees.
No doubt labor issues will continue to plague agriculture. Farm and ranch employers should consider changes they can make to attract and retain skilled, responsible, and valuable workers. More information and the recording of the webinar can be found at https://www.nefb.org/01/24/2022/farm-ranch-labor-the-help-wanted-sign-is-posted/.