If your farm experiences high turnover on a constant basis, it may be time for a self-evaluation to address the reasons why this is occurring. I recently took to social media and asked employees what was the top reason they left the last farm they worked for.

The answers varied slightly, but as suspected, they came back down to these three main reasons: management, pay and housing. If you’re having trouble maintaining your workforce, look at these reasons to see if there are areas in which your farm can improve.

1. Poor management

Now before you get angry, hear me out. Poor management can mean a lot of different things, not just you. But, let’s start with you. You’re good with cows, and good at dairying, but how are your leadership skills? Many local organizations offer leadership seminars; it doesn’t even have to be specific to dairy, but taking the time to learn about leading and managing employees is beneficial. Every team needs a leader, so be sure you’re setting the example you want your employees to follow. If you have other managers or supervisors, make sure they’re qualified, have leadership skills and are receiving training to help them fulfill their roles.

Managing employees really is like an art – no two people are the same, so you should constantly be evolving and adapting to your team and their needs. It’s also just as important to keep your employees in check – not addressing that certain employee’s attitude can bring down the whole team. Even allowing issues between employees to go unresolved can lead to major issues in the future. Make sure your team is constantly communicating and dealing with any issues right away. And lastly, everyone must respect each other. Management, owners and employees must all have mutual respect for a fully functioning team.

2. Pay and benefits

It’s true, not everything is about money, but money is pretty important. Be sure you’re keeping up with wages in your area. You don’t have to be the highest paying farm out there (especially if you’re a good leader), but you do need to be competitive. A great way to keep your employees engaged is to have a raise or benefits schedule. Create a system that works for your farm. Many people include a raise schedule that coincides with amount of time on the job, somatic cell count (SCC) bonuses or for a job well done. Setting a schedule will help you make it clear to employees when they can expect a raise.


As an additional “thank you,” try paying extra on holidays or paying a night shift premium. A full benefits package may not be feasible for every farm, but get creative and talk to your insurance and business agents to see what will work for you. Even a handwritten note or a small token of appreciation (such as a gift card) will help your employees feel appreciated and valued.

3. Housing

I feel like a broken record player with this one, but housing is key. If you don’t offer housing, and another farm nearby does, you’re probably going to lose some employees. Housing has become critical as the times become more uncertain and political agendas look a bit scary for immigrants. Providing housing, especially on-farm, can help you retain employees. If you are unable to provide housing, help new employees find apartments, or set up a ride-share program with your employees.

One farm hired a semi-retired gentleman to give employees rides to and from the farm at shift changes. Many times, housing is limited to single people (no families), which can alienate a large group of candidates. Although it’s not feasible in every situation, be as flexible as you can. Be realistic if you charge for housing. If your housing is outrageously priced, it won’t be much of an advantage towards keeping employees around long-term.

There’s no easy button to reducing turnover. Adapt to your employees and the current times, listen to their wants and needs, and see if you can meet in the middle. Of all the farms we work with, there’s a few things the farms with low turnover have in common: great leaders, consistency and communication. Be the leader your employees need you to be; stay consistent in all aspects; and most importantly, keep communication open.  end mark

Becky Schmid is the operations manager at AgriStaff USA, a labor service agency that provides workforce solutions to the agricultural industry. They have offices in Kiel and Appleton, Wisconsin.