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Eight Farm Management Tips for the 2018 Season

Elizabeth Higgins, Business Management Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

April 6, 2018

Eight Farm Management Tips for the 2018 Season[1]or How to Grow Better Workers

Elizabeth Higgins CCE-ENYCHP

A good time to make New Year's resolutions is at the start of the new growing season.  This year why don't you try adopting one or more of the following 8 key management strategies of good managers on your farm.  They might help you help get your employees off to a good start this year.

1. Actively Involve Your Employees in the Operations of the Farm. In the business world, it's known as participative management style. Remember that the person who does the job knows the most about how the job can be done (or changed). Despite a farm's hectic schedule some owners do find time to:

  • •Be with their key employees during a short morning session once the work crews are going to check in and see how things are going.
  • •Take key employees equipment shopping and to meetings and shows.
  • •Encourage their employees to work directly with their service providers, i.e., the vet and extension specialists, who can be effective trainers.
  • •Try to see and greet all employees each day.

2. Create a Positive Attitude. "Have you caught an employee doing something right today?" (from The One-Minute Manager book) If we feel an employee is stupid, lazy, and no good, then they will sense this and fall into this rut. If we feel an employee is moral, trainable, and a worthwhile human being, they probably will be. Again, put into your vocabulary the phrases- "well - done," "thank you," "I appreciated the extra effort."

3. Understand That Time Off Is Essential. Planting and harvesting seasons are long. Most employees accept this and enjoy the challenge. What they don't accept is getting only every other Sunday off. Probably the #I pet peeve for farm employees is not having enough time off, especially weekends. Many farmers are organizing their schedules to create at least one weekend day off a week for each employee, so they can spend time with family or friends.

4. Train a Trainer. If you have skills that you want developed in your employees but haven't the time to do the training yourself or don't have the patience, then develop training skills in some of your key people. Send them to seminars, etc. to learn skills they can bring back to train your other employees.

5. Establish Systems to Improve Communication. Some that are working quite well include: maintenance schedule checklists, blackboards to write messages to one another, texting and 2-way radios. To help your employees see the results of their labor and post production results (i.e., CSA bags packed this week, number of cases of apples packed/hr). These become monitoring tools and goals that offers opportunities for working together.

6. Do Not Give Titles Without Authority. A market manager in charge of farmers markets had better be in charge. If they can't load and unload the produce, set up the display, handle cash and customers and supervise other workers independently, then they aren't a market manager. One of the major miscommunications with employees is the perceived expectations versus the real-world responsibilities. Although it is important to encourage employees to assume responsibility and grow in their jobs, it is a mistake to give someone a title and responsibility for a job that they cannot meet expectations in, especially if that job involves managing other employees.

7. Do Performance Appraisals - Frequently. An employee has a right to know how they are performing. Have you sat down and discussed with your employees for at least an hour their strengths and weaknesses and how you can help them do a better job. Farmers who do this regularly have told us how rewarding it is to both parties.

8. Prepare an Employee Handbook. Businesses with several employees are putting together written information for their new employees on expectations, rules and policies (i.e., vacations, holidays, absenteeism, etc.), and details regarding fringe benefits. This creates fair standards for everyone and eliminates politics and favoritism, which, if not controlled, become roots of employee discontent.

[1] Adapted from Rogers, Don Human Resource Management Practices in Action in Maloney, Thomas et al. Human Resource Management on The Farm: A Management Letter Series. Department of Agricultural Economics, Cornell University. 1988. pp21-22.



Eight Farm Management Tips for the 2018 Season (pdf; 163KB)

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Upcoming Events

Tarping for Reduced Tillage Workshop

November 2 - November 19, 2019

Are you a vegetable farmer already using tarps? Or are you wondering if and how tarps could work best on your farm?

The Cornell Small Farms Program is excited to announce a series of workshops on tarping for reduced tillage in small-scale vegetable systems, to be held in Maine and New York this fall. The Reduced Tillage (RT) project of the Cornell Small Farms Program supports farmers in adopting scale-appropriate RT practices that can lead to healthy, productive soils and greater profitability. Through the evaluation of novel tools and methods using systems-based field research and on-farm trials, the project helps farmers learn about the approaches that can work for their farm. This work is accomplished in collaboration with the University of Maine, and with support from Northeast SARE.

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Winter Greens High Tunnel Tour

November 13, 2019
9:30am - 4:00pm
Willsboro, NY

Join us for a tour of overwintered high tunnel greens. Our first stop will be the Willsboro Research Farm, where we will visit our spinach nitrogen fertility experiment, discuss research results, and view a sous vide hot water seed treatment demonstration. Following an early lunch, we will carpool across the lake via the ferry to the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont. The Intervale has been providing organic vegetables to the greater Burlington area for 30 years and has a 600 member CSA. Farm manager Andy Jones will discuss their evolving winter greens production practices, including variety selection, soil fertility, irrigation, and food safety practices. After touring their high tunnels and new wash/pack shed, we will return to Willsboro.

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Learn About Using the H-2A Program on Small Farms

November 18, 2019
1:30pm - 4:00pm
Schenectady, NY

Are you worried about labor next season on your farm?
Are you wondering if the H-2A program will make sense on your farm?

The H-2A program allows US employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the US to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Join us to learn about how to use the H-2A program on small farms. Learn from US DOL H-2A staff and a CSA vegetable farmer, with experience using H-2A, about what it takes to use the program.

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Announcements

Resources from CCE ENYCHP!

We are developing new ways to connect with the CCE ENYCHP team this year! We have a Youtube page located at this link. Check out videos on Table Grape Production, Pest Updates and the 20 Minute Ag Manager - in 4 Minutes series

We have a Facebook Page here as well as an Instagram page. We keep these places updated with current projects, events, and other interesting articles and deadlines.

There are also text alerts available. Fruit and vegetable farmers in 17 Eastern NY counties can now receive real time alerts on high risk disease and pest outbreaks texted directly to their cell phone. The Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture program, which is supported by local Cornell Cooperative Extension associations, will now offer text alerts to those that enroll in our program in 2019. 

The text alerts will be reserved for important crop alerts that could impact management decisions immediately. For instance, if there were an outbreak of Late Blight in the area, this would be transmitted to vegetable growers.

Farmers can choose the crop for which they wish to receive updates. Additionally they can request that Ag Business Alerts be sent to them. These alerts might include due dates for crop insurance deadlines, market opportunities etc.

If you have questions, please contact enychp@cornell.edu


Podcasts

Climate Change Adaptations

September 30, 2019
In this episode regional vegetable specialist Elisabeth Hodgdon interviews University of Vermont PHD student Alissa White about a series of interviews with growers in the north east concerning climate change adaptations.

Listeners can access Alissa White’s climate change adaptation survey report and additional information on the project by clicking on the following link:

https://adaptationsurvey.wordpress.com/results/
Alissa’s project was sponsored by a Northeast SARE Graduate Student Grant (GNE17-163).

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