After years of tight labor markets and difficulties in recruiting and retaining good employees, we now find ourselves with double-digit unemployment in just about every corner of the U.S. Combined with higher milk prices and good crops emerging for the 2020 season, this year might provide great opportunities to build and strengthen your team for the long haul.

The short-term concern of farm employers should remain the health and safety of employees. While employers may look at it as additional costs and training, this should be seen as an effective risk management measure. In recent weeks, a number of farms across the U.S. and Canada have been linked to COVID cases and outbreaks. The cost of such outbreak, including lost production, additional labor cost, and potential damage to your reputation can be meaningful.

Health and safety of employees can also be seen as a long-term investment in the trust of your team and your reputation as an employer. In fact, following this crisis, employees are likely to be far more aware of and even place a premium on work environment quality, including safety and health aspects. Many employers will see this as a way to build a competitive advantage by offering better working environments.

An opportunity?
As of June, the U.S. unemployment rate was 11.1%, lower than in previous months but still 7.6% higher than in February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of the jobs lost were in the service sector . . . leisure and hospitality in particular. In years past, many dairy farms were directly competing for labor with those industries. The current situation eliminates most of that competition, but it does not mean that employees from those sectors will be available and willing to transfer to farms. Labor usually takes time to adjust to economic crises because moving across regions or industries can have profound implications for workers’ lifestyle and may require some retraining.

Still, in the coming weeks and months, many dairy farms may have opportunities to hire people transferring from other industries. Approaching the situation strategically can provide opportunities to strengthen and develop your team. A good hiring process will help you identify workers that share values and interests that fit with the environment you can provide. You can also hire on a temporary basis, as it can bring you added flexibility, added skills, and potentially lead to quality hires if you choose to retain them long term.

Overall, it’s a good time to reinforce trust with your team by showing that you care for them and provide a safe and healthy environment, and also by strategically adding new hires that can help you develop a loyal and engaged team for the long haul.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
July 20, 2020
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