Sponsored By
indiana Prairie Farmer Logo

Master Farmers share tips for motivating farm employeesMaster Farmers share tips for motivating farm employees

Here are ideas that could help you motivate and retain key staff members.

Tom Bechman 1

August 22, 2016

3 Min Read

Jim Mintert had time to ask just three questions when he moderated the 2016 Master Farmers panel discussion. Mintert, director of the Center for Commercial Agriculture at Purdue University, picked his questions wisely.

He asked what advice each Master Farmer would give to someone starting in farming today. Next he asked where they had seen the biggest changes in agriculture.

Just one question left. What issue affects many farm operations in either a positive or negative way? If you are thinking "how to motivate and keep employees long term," you’re on the same wavelength with Mintert.


Panel members included Dan Gwin, Linden; Tom and Karen McKinney, Kempton; John and Nan Nidlinger, Decatur; Don and Darci Zolman, Pierceton; and Bret Marsh, Indiana state veterinarian and 2016 Honorary Master Farmer, Indianapolis.

Mintert: How do you motivate new staff members and keep them long term?

Bret Marsh: I urge my employees to be problem-solvers. I want them to figure out solutions on their own. However, I don’t want them to get so deep that it will be difficult to get out of it before they ask for help. They know my slogan: "I can’t help you before or until you ask for help."  

Don Zolman: The key is to value your employees, including their input on various matters. You want to hear their ideas. We have regular meetings with our employees so we can share ideas back and forth. If you have good employees, you can put them in charge and know the job will get done. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re looking over their shoulders.

Darci Zolman: Look for ways you can show appreciation to them.

Dan Gwin: We try to quickly figure out what an employee’s abilities are, and keep that in mind. We live close to Purdue University, and we’ve been fortunate to have students work for us part time on occasion. However, we learned early on that you don’t want to hire freshmen. They need time to get settled in at school before they take on a job.

John Nidlinger: Our goal is to make employees feel like they are all part of the team.

Nan Nidlinger: Darci is right. You must appreciate what they do for the farm. Remember that while this might be your life, it is a job for them. They have their own lives, too. John is also right. You definitely need to make them feel that they’re part of the team.

Karen McKinney: One issue we see is farm kids wanting to farm. Not everybody can do that right away. One way we can help is to guide them. Maybe we can help them figure out how they can do it over time. One thing they need to understand if they come to a farm like ours is that you can’t expect to be the boss at age 20.

Tom McKinney: One thing we do is ask about their skill levels. What are their strong points? We also need to work with them to create a job description for what they will do in the operation.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like