On Farm Employment and RewardTuesday, Dec 19, 2000
The great thing about a bout of rural optimism is that it brings out the best intentions in people.
A South Island Fed Farmers Section Chairman enthused over the potential salaries that farm managers
and workers could receive from joining the dairy industry.
A 50/50 sharemilker to gain a gross of annual income $200,000 would need to be milking in the region
of 450 cows requiring around $550,000 in capital. After interest on that plus labour and operational
expenses a sharemilker would be netting possibly $70,000 or $46,000 after tax to live, repay debt
and build up reserves to enable further expansion.
A realistic and seemingly acceptable situation for the majority of larger herd sharemilkers. With individual
sharemilkers devising any number of different techniques to capture as much of that gross
as possible to ensure they make progress.
However the most significant generator of sharemilker capital is the catching of a rising herd value
cycle, which conversely can also be devastating in a down cycle.
While focusing on the benefits of share milking for the individuals who are able to get their foot on
that share ladder the real troops of the industry are the young workers who enter dairying with
a range of beliefs and expectations.
By the accident of their job selection many end up in employment that is less than satisfying, engendering
disillusionment or indifference. The proportion that makes it through to a satisfying career
Dairying at its worst is an antisocial, stressful work experience. This is clearly demonstrated by the
surge of second shot employment offers that occur each mid to late spring as employers and employees
sort out their priorities in terms of costs/benefits/returns. Generally it is the young employee
who makes the adjustment.
Farm employment is about more than financial reward especially in periods of higher farming returns.
Attempts have been made over the years to design better job specifications and conditions in the
While not an advocate of the Henry Ford production line model, the farming industry seems to be caught
between requiring workers with expensive high tech, on the spot, decision skills, versus the lower
cost, low decision, supervised job designed down to match the capability of an untrained worker.
Perhaps job churning is a component of every industry, but in farming it seems to be excessive and part
of the poor image of farming as a career.
In summary the flaw in on job training is that the teacher often repeats the conditions that prevailed
with their training with an "it never did me any harm" dismissal. Improved farm employment status
will arise from attention to all areas of employment not just the success story images.
Any discussion on farm employment could not be complete without acknowledgement of the critical importance
that wives and families of employers and employees play in all aspects of the success of farming.
They are the resource that is relied on when all the good employment intentions fail.
One hopes that in this "boom" time that they too will be recognised as being the glue that holds the
ship together in the stormy gaps between the fair farming weather.