Too often, farm kids return home to the farm because they’ve been told there is always a place for them. However, this can create a sense of entitlement. They feel they are entitled to a spot on the farm instead of feeling humbled by the experience and driven to earn their keep.

Junkin andy
Andy (Caygeon) Junkin’s niche is helping stubborn farmers work better together. You can download ...

These are the situations where you see a farm kid flunking out of college, returning home and having a hard time getting out of bed.

Youth, what value are you providing the operation? What value are you providing over hired men? If you are getting paid twice the wage of hired men, how are you outworking two men combined? In farming, this question is not asked often enough.

For various reasons, we are having many prodigal sons return home to the farm and have the wrong attitude when integrating them into the operation.

For example, Jim Daniel (not his real name) realized that with falling crop prices, his days as an equipment salesmen were over. His older brother had been at home managing the dairy farm, and the brother had actually won a few prestigious awards for being the best dairyman in the state.


The Daniels’ production and profitability numbers were phenomenal. It was a mid-sized 500-cow dairy with more than 10 employees.

Jim hated cows but loved driving equipment. He felt the dairy should create a role for him by creating a cropping enterprise and for him to manage that. The family only had a few hundred acres and brought in the majority of their feed.

Even if the farm aggressively bought 100 acres every year, it would take more than 20 years to build up enough of a land base to justify the equipment and full-time “cash cropper” role Jim envisioned. In the meantime, Jim was told he needed to focus on making the dairy exponentially more profitable so the dairy could justify investing into a second enterprise.

Jim didn’t like this one bit. He felt if the family had set up his brother, he should be set up.

The fact was: No Daniel milked cows on that operation; the family did all of the choice jobs, leaving the “cruddy” jobs to their employees to do. The joke in the community was that everyone in the county milked the Daniels’ cows but the Daniels.

The reality was: Jim was born into a dairy farm that had 10 employees. If he wanted a role on the farm, he needed to do the jobs no one else wanted to do.

He needed to be the first one in the barn in the morning milking cows, even if he hated milking cows. The farm was large enough; the key was for him to find a role for himself that the farm needed done and no one else wanted to do, then “own it.” As with any family operation, you should start at the bottom and earn the respect you need to work your way to the top.

When we negotiated the son’s salary and compensation, he was getting paid $50,000 plus benefits. That was double what most of the farm’s employees made. No employees were laid off, and essentially it was a new position. You should have seen his jaw drop when I said:

“Your farm is creating a new position to accommodate you. Now your farm has an average return on investment of 5 percent. That means you have to improve gross farm income by 1 million dollars to justify your position on the farm. How are you planning on doing this?”

Driving tractor for a few weeks a year to put in a crop isn’t enough. It’s doing the extras that counts.

It’s doing those little things no employee wants to do (and which often don’t get done) like changing footbaths three times a week, daily trimming feet in your spare time and improving cows’ foot health that impacts the milk in the tank. In a chaotic dairy, minimum-wage employees are only going to do as they are told.

A family member who does the “cruddy” jobs and focuses on details that make a dairy extra profit can easily make the difference to justify their wage.

Youth, how does your farm make money today? What are you going to do to improve farm profitability to justify both your wages and the farm’s investment in what you see as your future role in the farm?

If you can’t do this, then the farm should pay you the same as any starting employee.  end mark

Andy Junkin helps successful farmers across North America groom successors for management positions; he then quarterbacks the succession process. He can be reached at (800) 474-2057.

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Fredric Ridenour.

Mark Andrew Junkin