Several years ago, I spoke to a GEAPS group and asked those in attendance how many days in a row they had worked the previous harvest.  I asked those who had worked at least 30 straight days to stand, and most stood.  As I counted upwards, I asked them to sit down when we surpassed their “streak.”  Many stayed standing into the 40’s, then 50’s, and the “winner” had worked 67 straight days!

What has changed in the last several years?  As a new generation of workers arrives on the scene, I’ve spoken with managers who share that “the new guard just can’t cut the hours it takes for the job.”  My question to these managers is, could the younger generation be right?  In many ways, I think they may have their priorities for a healthy work / life balance more in order.  Regardless, we must continue to ask if there is a different or smarter or better way to approach the rigors of our very demanding ag industry.

As the Baby Boomer generation continues moving into retirement, it is imperative we look for new paradigms in agriculture in order to attract and keep the talent we need to meet the ongoing demands of our industry.  Studies show younger workers value time off as much or more than they do additional money.  Is this wrong?  I think not.  Are they loyal and dedicated workers?  I think so.  Are there opportunities to make work and home life more balanced in the midst of planting or harvest season?  Of course there are.  Working together, we must find answers, or the future success of our industry is at risk.

The problem is, many of our ag businesses continue to operate in such a manner as “we have always done.”  We “have to stay open” because…  But consider this.  Years ago, I stood in a customer’s shed going over fertilizer recommendations, and the farmer said, “I sure wish you (the coop) would close on Sunday.  And my wife would pay you to be closed!”  He went on to say his crew was worn out, and his wife worried constantly about their safety.  He concluded, “We just need a day of rest, but as long you stay open, my neighbor is in the field, and my landlords keep track…”

There are many who have found positive solutions.  Consider the long-time fertilizer manager who shared his secret for keeping good help. “I ask my people to give me their all when we are in season, and they do.  But when it is over, we let them go to four 10-hour days each week and rotate among each other so we can be open five days.  They all get a four-day weekend every other week for part of the summer and throughout the winter.  They love it. Their families love it.  It gives them time for weekend getaways, camping and hunting trips, and other things they enjoy.  It doesn’t eliminate the long hours of the busy season, but when it hits, they are fresh and ready to go.”

Other businesses offer gift cards or checks, meals, or various other incentives for loading trains on time, getting fields sprayed, meeting planting or harvest goals and deadlines, or keeping all their customers’ equipment running.  But is that enough?

Agriculture is changing.  Equipment is getting bigger.  Yield trend lines continue to go up.  And the pressure of getting the work done in a timely manner doesn’t let up.  Equipment never breaks down in the shed, and one manager recently lamented, “You never know when a train may show up, and you can’t control the weather.”  The challenges of keeping your team intact, safe, and happy throughout the rigors of planting season or harvest do indeed get more challenging each year.

So ask yourself, what is the culture of your business?  Are you creative in finding ways for your team members to avoid burnout, exhaustion, and the dangers of excessive hours during the busy season?  Do you have a culture that encourages successful marriages and families?  You will take a giant leap forward in raising team morale when your team members do not have to constantly choose between work and time with their families.  That adds tremendous stress and often guilt to marriage and family relationships.

Consider accepting my challenge.  Create an atmosphere for your team members to openly and creatively satisfy the competing demands of improving their home lives and still providing outstanding customer service.   Ask for input from everyone in your company.  Make it a fun process.  Create a “Home / Work Balance Committee” and include Board members and / or farmer customers to share their thoughts and to also help them understand the need for our industry professionals to have quality “away from work” time.  You may be amazed at what your team comes up with, and the long-term success of your company and our industry depends on it.

*Note:  Please pass along your company’s ideas to, and we’ll be happy to share some of them in future newsletters!

—Dave Allen