Minding Ag's Business

Cure for Employer Blues

Lori Culler used her experience recruiting for Fortune 500 companies to help her family grow their 8,000-acre farm operation.


CAPTION: Michigan native Lori Culler used her experience with recruiting for Fortune 500 companies to help her family grow a workforce for their 8,000-acre farm.

Unemployment rates are recovering after the nation's long recession. By February they were at their lowest level in eight years, running at 3% or below in a number of key farm states. That's exacerbating recruitment and retention problems for farm workers in many rural areas. It's also one reason DTN has joined forces with a human resource specialist to advise readers on labor solutions.

Starting this month, AgHires CEO Lori Culler will launch a monthly DTN column, "Ag's HR Coach" available on all DTN products. The founder of an online job board and recruiting company specializing in agriculture, Culler will join our stable of veteran business consultants--CliftonLarsonAllen CPA Andy Biebl, Texas A&M Ag Finance Professor Danny Klinefelter and Ag Progress Family Business Adviser Lance Woodbury. Each one of these authors addresses solutions to the management and family challenges confronting farm businesses. Starting April 14, you will find Culler and other DTN columnists at https://www.dtnpf.com/…. DTN subscribers can find them in their regular Town Hall locations.

Culler is a Midwest farm girl whose family still raises potatoes, tomatoes and grain in Michigan and Indiana. Prior to consulting in the ag industry, she provided human resource and management consulting to Fortune 500 companies in manufacturing, utility and health care industries. After recruiting and implementing HR strategies for her family's farm during a high-growth spurt, she was inspired to help fellow farmers find and hire talent. AgHires popular job board for farms and agribusinesses can be accessed at DTN's public website, https://www.dtnpf.com/….

BROADENING THE TALENT POOL

Labor shortages remain a serious problem on many farms. DTN's own online March 360 Poll of 427 readers found about 60% of respondents report moderate to severe problems in hiring qualified farm workers. That's not so different than what rural agribusinesses like farm equipment dealers and cooperatives report, Culler says. Not only does it reflect the tight labor pool, but science and technology advances at the farm gate that require employees to exercise both brains and brawn.

Ag employers need new strategies to recruit under those circumstances, Culler says. "The old methods of word-of-mouth advertising and walk-ins just aren't effective anymore," says Culler, whose AgHires site has a following of 40,000 on Facebook. "The landscape of where to find people has also changed."

Today, Culler encourages employers to be continuous recruiters, rather than just focusing on when the time is right.

"Where are the job seekers? On electronic job boards, on social media," she says. "They're not excited about working for you if they can't find the company's website or Facebook page.

"I recently helped two farms a few miles apart recruit from the same labor pool, the same area and the same type job. The one with a website attracted 18 applicants, the other without a site only four."

If you're not Facebook literate, ask someone in the family to construct a Facebook page and post pictures of your farm on a regular basis, she says. Build your image and reputation in the community. Contact your friends and business acquaintances to give you "likes." Often would-be job seekers will be searching for businesses where they'd like to work in the future; if they know about you, they'll be recruits when they're ready.

Don't underestimate the appeal of working for a progressive farm operation. There's a trend right now to go back to small or medium-sized businesses, Culler says. "We're seeing layoffs in big ag-related companies due to mergers and downsizing from the farm recession. Employees with experience in agronomy and technology may be more available now.

"The 'brag point' for farms is that they have something to offer that big business doesn't," Culler adds. "Longevity, family values, autonomy in work." With the right message and networking, talent can come your way.

Follow Marcia Taylor on Twitter @MarciaZTaylor

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