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Competition, recruiting, retention remain top ag workforce challenges

iStock/Getty Images Farmer with clipboard kneeling by dairy cows in a barn.
Although 2020 was dominated by COVID other long-standing challenges remain, based on a new ag employment survey.

Competition for talent and recruiting difficulties of hourly, skilled staff remained the biggest challenges for farms and agribusinesses, based on the latest annual survey.

While 2020 was full of changes because of COVID, agricultural employers noted five matters were still more concerning than the pandemic: 

  1. Competition for talent
  2. Recruiting difficulties
  3. Employee retention
  4. Fair and competitive compensation systems
  5. Employee training and development
  6. COVID-19
  7. Maintaining a safe and healthy work environment
  8. Employee wellness/benefits initiatives
  9. Workplace diversity and inclusion
  10. Managing a multigenerational workplace

For 14 years, annually surveys agribusinesses in our HR Review, covering a range of human resource practices from recruiting, to salaries and retention. Undoubtedly, 2020 was a year unlike any other to observe trends in agricultural employment. The 2021 U.S. Agribusiness HR Review includes contribution from 80 agribusiness employers.

Agricultural employers reported that the most significant factor influencing workforce planning needs was voluntary turnover, followed by recruitment difficulties and retirements. Looking at HR Review data over the past five years, retirement numbers were relatively consistent.

Companies experienced recruiting difficulties for various reasons, with the top reason being applicants lacked the required skills. When recruiting at all levels throughout the organizations, the most difficult levels to recruit for were hourly/non-exempt roles.  

To meet staffing needs throughout the year, companies most frequently used temporary agencies or employed temporary staff. Over 36% of participating agribusinesses employed skilled seasonal staff, typically from 6 to 12 months of the year. This was an increase in employment length over the previous year when companies were most likely to employ seasonal staff for only 3 to 6 months.  

To find detailed agribusiness human resource trends in these areas, plus benefits, performance rewards and reviews, flexible staffing and more, download a full copy of the U.S. Agribusiness HR Review under Market Research at A separate Canadian edition is also available.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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