Get A Good Start When Hiring Farm Employees

Get A Good Start When Hiring Farm Employees

Farm management specialist Melissa O'Rourke helps farmers look for employees effectively as a part of an online series.

By Christina Dittmer

HIRE RIGHT: What you need to know about hiring and managing farm employees is valuable information. ISU Extension farm management specialist Melissa O'Rourke gives helpful tips on hiring a good candidate for farm employment -- from expectations, to job boards, to interviews.

Melissa O'Rourke, a farm and agribusiness management specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in northwest Iowa, has begun a series of educational guides that help farm operators find and manage farm employees. Her program is called the Farm Employee Management Series, and it outlines the entire process of managing farm employment, from hiring, to interviews, to evaluations and paperwork. The first four installments, available to read online, are "Get the Right Start in Hiring Employees", "The Job Interview and what Questions Can I Ask?", "Do We Need an Employee Handbook?", and "Assembly of Farm Job Descriptions". The series can be found on the Ag Decision Maker website.

In the first of these installments, O'Rourke outlines how to go about looking for farm labor effectively. She offers the following ideas, information and recommendations on hiring farm employees.

Be aware of what your farm operation needs
First, analyze the needs of the farm operation. Look at the busy times on the farm; are they a specific time of year, week or as specific as a certain day? Being definite with when you really need extra labor can help keep employment and labor costs within the operation's budget.

When creating a "help wanted" description, put careful thought into what the employee will be expected to do. After making this list, you can review and analyze whether the expectations are reasonable and prioritize them if necessary. The description should also include physical requirements, previous work experience expected, working conditions and time required.

It's also important to note whether applicants should have a regular driver's license or commercial driver's license. To get more information on whether or not a CDL is required, visit the Iowa Department of Transportation website.


Before you post the announcement, have a pay range determined. This should fit your budget, fit requirements of the employee, and also have an idea for bonus payments or benefits. While you should have it in mind, it is not necessary to include pay range in the job announcement.

Some thoughts on advertising the position
After you've completed the job description, think of creative ways to post it. O'Rourke notes that modern jobseekers don't look in printed media for advertisements. Instead, think of recruiting from local schools, contacting Iowa Workforce Development, or posting it to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach's Market Maker site. Some other ideas may include local radio stations, online job boards, simple flyers with contact information, and word of mouth. If you have current employees, they could be valuable recruiters for your farm operation.

Also, look into creating or obtaining an application form. When doing this, make sure all questions on the form are appropriate and legal to ask. Asking for references is a good idea.

Be sure you interview with purpose in mind
The interview process should not only include appropriate, legal and applicable questions, it should also include important information that should be shared with applicants. Describe the hours, working conditions, duties, training, pay structure and benefits that are a part of the job. Outline how the farm operates, as applicants may be unfamiliar with farm processes. O'Rourke's second article in the series, "The Job Interview and What Questions Can I Ask?", offers more guidance pertaining to the interview process.


Check the applicant's references, but remember to ask simple questions when you do so. Checking when the applicant was employed, about their former duties, and if the former employer would hire the applicant again, are all safe questions to ask.

Have a written offer of employment ready
Once all applicants have been interviewed, carefully evaluate and work out final details before you offer someone the position. The initial offer can be made by phone, but O'Rourke suggests it is a good idea to follow that with a written offer of employment which outlines the details of the position. This can include pay, benefits, hours, duties and flexibility required.

Once an applicant accepts the job offer, let the other candidates know of the decision. If an applicant who did not receive the position still stands out, let them know that their application will be kept on file for future employment.

Finally, be sure to obtain all the proper forms and follow all proper procedures required by state and federal law. O'Rourke says these paperwork items will be outlined in future additions to the series.

Melissa O'Rourke can be contacted at [email protected] or 712-737-4230.

For farm management information and analysis visit ISU's Ag Decision Maker site at; ISU farm management specialist Steve Johnson's site is at

Christina Dittmer is a Wallaces Farmer intern.

TAGS: Extension
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