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Farm Employment

Greetings Readers

Dr Clive Dalton made an important point in today’s news. Employment problems on the farm are the farmer’s problem.

It is clear from research that “farming sucks” in the minds of many potential employees. Why that should be so, probably requires a complex social analysis, but in crude farmer terms we are poor employers because we are inconsistent. We are really inconsistent when we are very bad employers and just a little better when we are good.

Sure there are examples of individual farmers with good employment records who use systems and structures to ensure that their staff are well managed, well trained, well rewarded and appreciated but most of these examples realize how fragile the employment relationship is particularly when promotion prospects are limited for capable junior members on multi staffed properties.

Right now farmers see opportunities for expansion in a wide range of areas. It is a basic economic principle that the more one receives for a product the more one can spend to profitably produce that product and generally the key constraint after capital is labour. Staff to carry out the ever-increasing ranges of skilled technical tasks demanded by new machinery, new systems and new livestock management practices.

And in the mad scramble to secure labour, generally well after the capital has been arranged and expended and the project committed, farmer employers, tend to make offers or imply benefits in the future “ïf” X happens just to get another pair of hands.

This is not unique to farmers as Ms Rankin and the Public Service Chiefs are currently sorting out this problem for similar reasons – the “if” meant different things to the employer and the employee – an inconsistency that brought about dissatisfaction nonetheless.

But even worse if economic or environmental conditions change as they often do in farming, for instance in a drought – where does the first cutback occur? Staff positions are terminated. A further inconsistency in an employment offer of a “permanent” position.

These inconsistencies are the reality of the employment environment. On one hand professionals are claiming that training of both employer and employee is the answer and on the other a core of farmers who consider staff should be dragooned into employment for three feeds a day and a bit of shelter.

Our task as employers is to manage these inconsistencies better. Better in the sense that each farm business accepts that employment is a key input that requires particular attention on the farm rather than expecting off farm influences to make the situation right.

Good farming

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