The biggest issue facing most hog farms today is a shortage of workers, according to Laura Bruner, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.
“If you ask (producers) what their challenges are in their day-to-day life, it’s finding labor and enough labor to be able to take care of the sows and get the production they want,” she said.
COVID initially played a role in having fewer workers available. But other issues are also involved. “People are getting farther and farther away from the farm,” she added. “Finding people who want to work with pigs was difficult before COVID, and it is certainly more difficult now.”
Create strong company culture
Producers hoping to attract workers who are interested in agriculture need to consider their company culture and if it’s a place people want to work.
“The culture that is probably the most successful is the culture that puts pigs and people first,” Bruner said. “When you’re making decisions, you ask two questions: Is it good for the people, and is it good for the pigs? That’s a culture that across our client base has never failed.”
Operators wondering if they have a good culture can figure that out by asking employees if they would refer a sister or brother to work there.
“If the answer is no, then you probably need to take a look at the health of your company,” she said.
Improving a culture can start with a well-written mission statement to reflect the company’s overall purpose. Bruner said most of their clients have mission statements.
“It’s the one mission that everybody, from the person feeding the animals all the way up to the owner, are all striving for,” she said. “They are all pulling toward the same goal, and everybody knows that goal and mission.”
Help workers win
Attracting and keeping employees means making sure they feel like they are “winning” either professionally or personally with the job.
“I think everybody, when they go to their job, wants to feel like they’re winning in some capacity,” Bruner said. “For a guy or gal just starting a family, winning for them might be learning and gaining more experience to make more money and support the family.”
Flexibility in the job may be a winning solution for other workers. For example, she suggested some people may want to assist sows overnight or work evening hours versus early morning.
“Everybody is different, and if you’re a company that can flex to that, I think you’ll have a better shot at getting and retaining employees,” she said.
Where to find workers
In today’s culture, social media is the best way to find workers, besides personal connections in the community.
“Everybody is on social media, and developing that platform is important,” she said. “Plus having your employees who currently work for you being your advocate and recruiter is a good thing.”
Temporary visa workers
Another option to find workers is the Trade NAFTA (TN) visa program that allows professional agricultural workers from Canada and Mexico to work in the US for up to 3 years. Bruner has seen some farms use just a few TN workers while other farms hire TN workers for a majority of their positions.
“This has been a good resource for finding farm labor,” she said. “But it comes with a bit of ownership because these people are coming from other countries. They usually don’t have a driver’s license, and they don’t have a place to live…So it takes a little bit of time and investment for the employer.
“The TN visa program has been very good for our clients, and we have the ability to help them on the recruiting and training end,” Bruner added. “It is just another example of the industry continuing to think outside the box to solve problems in their business.”