How to find good farmworkers – and keep them

Contractor talking to staff member

©Cultura/Rex Shutterstock

Once upon a time, finding keen young farmers to join a contracting gang was a fairly straightforward affair.

Nowadays, however, it’s becoming a struggle to find experienced operators who want to do the hours some jobs demand.

We asked contractors to give us their tips.

See also: Keep staff up to date with training – a case study

Martin Hayes, Derbyshire

“If you find a good member of staff, pay them well and give them good toys to play with.

“It might sound simple, but as an employer you need to be always dangling carrots to get the best out of people,” explains Derbyshire contractor Martin Hays.

For example, don’t expect staff to sit week after week on a slurry pump without the prospect of something different or more exciting, he adds.

How to find staff

Try using Facebook and Twitter

Use the NAAC website to advertise

National magazine or agency

Think about apprenticeships with local colleges

Advertise in local colleges

Ask around local farmers

“I always try and make it clear that if someone makes a good job of, say, raking, then I’ll let them mow next time, or show them how to bale.”

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation with taking on young or inexperienced people,” he says. “You have to give them a chance to learn.

“But I’ve been in the position of investing time and money in someone, allowing them to become skilled, only for them to be attracted elsewhere by an employer who offers them slightly more money and shorter hours.”

Staff are offered training, paid weekly and are also on the books, which Mr Hays believes gives the employer a bit more protection.

RC Baker, Oxfordshire

Recruiting staff is done either by word of mouth or increasingly via the internet for Oxfordshire contractors RC Baker, says Steven Baker.

“We use our Facebook page first of all and then our own website. If that fails to get a good response, we go further afield to national agencies.

“Every person has a job book, which has to be completed in order for them to be paid, but wages are paid monthly via Bacs and this can either be employed or self-employed, depending on preference.”

Training is also offered and employees have an annual appraisal, which gives them a chance to air any grievances.

“It is becoming more difficult to find good people who want to do the work,” he says, “but the advice I would give is not to manage everyone in the same way.

“Every member of staff is different and wants a different work-life balance.”

Farmworker cleaning tractor

©Rex Shutterstock

Chris Johnson, Yorkshire

For Chris Johnson, who runs Yorkshire Gritters and grounds maintenance subsidiary Weedwipeout, incentivising staff and paying them above the normal rate has meant that his business has been able to expand.

“Farmers’ lads are often very quiet during the winter months and need some other form of work, so it’s worked out really well.”

How to keep staff

Don’t keep them on one task too long

Pay regularly; this helps you and them

Equip them with the appropriate clothing and equipment

Offer training

Consider bonuses and reward a good job well done

From just gritting, the business has grown expanded into groundscare and amenities for the companies looked after in the winter.

Mr Johnson now has about 10 regular staff in the winter and four in the summer, who either have their own four-wheel drives or use one of his to undertake gritting and snow clearance runs on a nightly basis.

“We get an email at lunchtime with the forecast and then can plan the route from there.

“I offer a fantastic wage and a bonus-related scheme which deducts an amount depending on careless damage or any complaints we’ve received.”

The bonus is not just missed out on by the individual responsible, but by the whole team.

“It might sound draconian, but in the five or so years I have been running it, there’s only been one month the lads missed out on their bonus, and it hasn’t happened again.”

Mr Johnson also provides all the appropriate PPE, including good boots and sign-written high-vis jackets.

“If we are clearing a festival-site for example, I make sure they have syringe-proof gloves.”

He also visits the cash-and-carry to stock up on water and snacks, so that workers can grab something if they need it.

“If we’ve been working solidly for hours I will try and grab a Starbucks or something to give the guys a little boost.”

Invoices are submitted on a Monday morning and paid either that night or the next morning via Bacs.

“At the end of the year we always have a night out and I give them a crate of their favourite tipple.

“Or, in some cases, if there’s a bit of equipment they want, I will help them out with that.”