On our farm, we have an excellent team, many of whom have been here for more than 10 years; however, as we are starting to plan the next stage of our farm, updating our now 25-year-old parlor and freestall barn, we need to think long term about our team.
With several employees who are closer to retirement than they are to the beginning of their careers, we need to prepare to replace them and their experience, in all aspects of a dairy farm and cropping enterprise. It is going to be with our current employees that we transition into a new facility, but at that point they will likely be ready to start handing off their duties to the next generation.
I feel that we need to approach recruiting differently when searching for young talent in the current job market. I believe that it has to start younger, to be looking at kids in high school, showing them what opportunities are in agriculture and to help them with getting the appropriate schooling and training, and bringing them on board as part of the team.
Recruiting top talent is difficult wherever you are, and we live in a very lightly populated, economically depressed area. So short of poaching from our neighbors, we need to find creative ways to develop the next generation of leaders. We have started slowly over the last few years to do things to improve our visibility among millennials. We have tried to maintain a social media presence, have sponsored a scholarship at two local high schools, and have hosted college interns. All of these things have increased our visibility and have led to increased interest in local youths in working part-time for us while in school.
This increased interest in our operation is happening in conjunction with planning our future that will include changes in how we handle our cropping as well as how we handle our cattle, with an eye on technology and how it is going to rapidly change our industry. Our plan is to start putting feelers out at the local high schools, looking for students who have an interest in agriculture and technology and the intersection of the two, and see if we can bring them on for part-time help while they are in school. Our hope is that we can use this as a screening process and be able to offer scholarships and financial aid to those we want to make part of our management team.
Obviously, if we are investing in their future, there would be some sort of work or repayment contract. This would be negotiated on an individual basis, dependent on job position and assistance level given. We feel that this will help us attract young, qualified talent as well as give opportunities to students who may have otherwise felt that they couldn’t afford college, thus giving them more opportunities in life. PD
Theo Scholze is a dairy producer in Humbird, Wisconsin. Email Theo Scholze.