South Dakota agriculture industry adjusts recruiting strategies
Farmers still reeling from a wet spring also have other concerns.
In addition to the confusing planting and calving weather for many, there are parts of the agriculture industry that are learning to adapt to the changing labor market.
Grant Rix, owner and manager of Rix Farms in Day and Brown counties, said the rainy weather has put his farm in a time crunch.
Farmers have little time to plant crops in spring or the growing season becomes too short. And northeastern South Dakota has had a lot of precipitation, which has slowed this process down. The problem is magnified for those who lack help.
Rix said there were enough people to do it all, but his dad is getting older and he’s always trying to hire one more person for a full-time gig. The farm typically has three full-time employees in addition to family members, he said.
Two people who worked with Rix had been on the farm for 20 years. Since leaving four years ago, Rix said three people had worked full-time before quitting. A lot of it just comes down to whether people want to do the job or not, he said.
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Rix Farms needs an agronomist or someone similar, he said. As a farm manager, it’s hard for him to be the one sitting in the corn planter, despite it being his favorite part of the job, he said.
To advertise her vacancy, Rix said she used AgHires, a job recruitment website specifically for agriculture. Through AgHires, jobs are shared on Facebook, which has proven effective in getting people to apply, Rix said.
Determining the right salary is not easy
The gap between farms and cooperatives also makes it difficult to know the right wage to pay employees for skilled versus unskilled labor, he said. The emergence of co-ops has made the job market more competitive because co-ops and farms often look to the same pool of applicants, Rix said.
As a result, he said he looked at job postings from other companies to get an idea of what a competitive salary is. And it works – Rix has a handful of applicants for the job he recently advertised, with the majority of them applying through Indeed.
Arthur Zoellner, owner of a farm near Groton, said he has taken on South African workers for the past four or five years, with some of those people returning to South Africa for several months a year. It was a success, although Zoellner said some of his neighbors had considered closing because they couldn’t find enough help.
The hardest jobs to fill are unskilled labor positions, Zoellner said, due to the fact that they pay less.
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The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulations lists more than 500 open jobs statewide related to agriculture in one way or another. Truck drivers, custom applicators, equipment vendors, agricultural construction workers, and many other options are on the list. The Lake Area Technical College in Watertown is even looking for a precision farming instructor.
Agtegra cooperative adjusts salaries and bonuses
Jane Kuhn, senior vice president of human resources and communications at Agtegra Cooperative, said jobs have become more competitive across all sectors. Jobs in industries such as catering now offer higher wages than before, she said.
Agtegra, headquartered in Aberdeen, will often have 60 to 80 jobs open at a time across its 70 locations. The most difficult positions to fill are operational, service-oriented positions, she said.
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Agtegra has changed its model a bit by considering locations as hubs of sorts. Instead of an employee only working at one location, they can have the flexibility to travel between nearby locations, even if only for a few days. And as the co-op sought people who had worked in agriculture, the recruitment pattern also changed. Now, Kuhn said, Agtegra is looking for specific skills that can be transferred across industries.
Agtegra has also recently partnered with a recruitment agency. This agency is looking for specific skills, often reaching out to people on platforms such as LinkedIn.
Kuhn said the expectations of potential workers have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people paying more attention to things like salary, benefits and flexibility. Agtegra has adapted to offer benefits such as bonuses for sheeting or drain loading, higher wages for certain jobs and more opportunities for internal growth, she said.