Anyone working in agriculture doesn’t have to open a newspaper to know that it’s difficult to find farm workers right now. Since the 1950s, the number of hired farmhands in America has fallen by 52%. The number of family farm workers has fallen by a staggering 73% according to the same data. In lean times, farms must get creative to address challenges. It’s important to first understand the many factors contributing to the farm worker shortage. Then, a farm can take steps to address it, which doesn’t necessarily mean hiring more help.
Why Is There a Shortage of Farm Workers?
The digital age remade almost every industry on Earth, and agriculture is no exception. With the interconnectedness of the internet, it’s easier for people to work remotely and to search outside their local area for job opportunities. A large increase in college graduates nationwide has led to competition for office jobs and work-from-home jobs instead of demanding seasonal farm work.
Until recent years, immigrant farm workers have been the stopgap in the decline of farm laborers. However, confusing and ever-changing immigration policies make it difficult and dangerous for immigrants to work on farms. Skyrocketing rates of college graduates in Mexico and Latin America have decreased the immigrant farm worker population as well.
What Can a Farm Do To Address This Worker Shortage?
Since hiring farm workers is difficult in the current climate, farms should aim to address the worker shortage from a different angle. Technology, streamlining costs and smart crop selection are all practical strategies that can help with this widespread problem.
Invest in Smart Farm Management Technology
Scientists and engineers have taken a huge interest in farming and agriculture. Innovative technology like a smart water valve for irrigation can make it easier to run a commercial farm without hiring new workers. These smart valves connect to the cloud, so the owner or manager of the farm can direct the flow of water remotely from a tablet, phone or computer. The valves also collect data on how crops perform with certain amounts of water, and they can offer precision control during a drought. Solar panels keep the smart valve running without the need for cords or batteries. Swapping legwork for innovative technology is a key way to address the farm worker shortage.
Cut Costs To Raise Salaries
Nearly every farm has had to cut costs in recent years. Supply line disruptions and rising prices across the board require a farm to keep a keen eye on its bottom line. However, one cost-saving measure can reveal other opportunities to save a little here and there. Land leasing, repairing equipment instead of purchasing new and conserving resources such as water and fertilizer all add up to significant savings.
Invest cost-cutting savings back into a farm by raising base salaries for workers. Contrary to popular belief, there are still people who would rather perform physical labor on a farm than sit in an office all day. The trouble is, farm worker salaries have not kept pace with other industries or the cost of living in America. The average farm worker’s hourly wage hovers around $15 according to the USDA, while the average nonfarm worker’s hourly wage in America is above $30. Farms must offer competitive wages to attract farm workers in a tough climate.
Reduce Overall Workload
If a farm can’t attract workers, a solid strategy to stay afloat is to reduce the amount of work that must be done around the farm. Farms should consider switching over to crops that are the easiest to grow in their region. Smart technology can monitor which crops perform best on limited watering, fertilizing and pesticide schedules.
Finding farm work is difficult with the wealth of job options in the modern world. Difficult is far from impossible, however. Farms can aim to reduce work on the business end by streamlining crop choices and leaving the monitoring tasks to machines. The money a farm saves can then go towards higher salaries to attract interested new workers.