Managing Seasonal Agriculture Workers: Best Practices

Eric Somitsch

Agriculture has always had labor issues. The quiet of winter is quickly replaced by spring planting and the busy days of harvest. Seasonal workers are often hired to help stem the tide of produce waiting to be gathered in the field. USDA statistics show a 46% increase in farm labor from January to July. This process helps keep farm operations agile and flexible for any changes coming up. Digital transformation is one such change.

Customers demand social responsibility. Food-borne illness prompts governments to require better farm-to-fork food safety standards and food traceability. Chaotic commodity markets drive home the need for reduced overhead expenses. From the most efficient precision farming operation to smallholder farming that provides additional income to small-farm families, improved efficiency and compliance with regulations is essential.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

One of the difficulties in hiring seasonal agriculture workers is managing the paperwork and legal requirements. Years ago, a farmer could simply hire someone looking for work by offering a particular amount of cash for each bushel of produce. The growth of sustainability and social responsibility has changed this process to require hourly pay and withholdings. In its wake, there’s a long trail of paperwork to maintain. How can farmers keep up when there’s so much more to do during the harvest?

Many farmers have made the change to managing their operations with spreadsheets. Unfortunately, those spreadsheets don’t integrate well with other software or platforms, requiring them to print items or manually input data.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to approach this problem. Cooperatives can fix it synergistically by offering farm management solutions. How would this work? We’re glad you asked.

Smart farmers are adapting to digital transformation. They’re using mobile devices in their tractors. They have drones to monitor field conditions and drop the right fertilizer or beneficial insects exactly where the need is highest. They can track their field metrics, including imagery and weather conditions, to precisely manage their yield. Extending this transformation to human resources enable farmers to get the job done more effectively and efficiently.

Doing this helps them ensure that the right resources are where they need to be when they’re most needed. This includes seasonal labor: When a farmer can forecast exactly how long it will take to get the harvest in, they don’t need to keep people on any longer than necessary. With access to this system, a seasonal labor force can see where they’ll next be needed and plan accordingly. This technology is easy to use on many types of mobile device. Administering employees, recording activity, and managing payments becomes much easier for agribusiness to manage effectively.

Supply chain logistics

Another area in agriculture that tends to have a heavy seasonal employee count is in the supply chain. All the produce, grain,and livestock coming out of the field has to go somewhere. The chaos in the commodity markets often raises overhead and drives down profit margins. This means getting farm products where they need to go quickly and effectively can have a major effect on profitability.

If you could hire a seasonal worker knowing they had food safety training, would it make a difference in your decision? Absolutely! What about when you need a driver to take your grain to the elevator? You’d want someone with a safe driving record to ensure they get your grain where it needs to go without the liability of an accident. Efficient contingent labor management solutions open the door to fast access to training records, safety records, and other information that makes your training process more efficient. At the same time, it improves your profit margins by minimizing on-the-job training.

If you’re working with a cooperative, contractor, or service provider, you can quickly access the information you need. Then it’s just a matter of hiring the workers you need who have the necessary training. You don’t need to spend precious time and money training your seasonal workers on everything; you can simply hit the high points of what happens in your operation.

A standardized system makes it much easier to plan for the upcoming season. Whatever data you need to record employee performance can be integrated into this system. It knows what information is needed and will automate much of your workflow. That minimizes the amount of time spent on administrative tasks.

Worldwide, more than one billion people work in agriculture. This seems like an impossible number of people to manage. But as connectivity improves, we can be better equipped to connect to these people. This can help increase efficiency and at the same time promote fair and sustainable working conditions and practices.

Get the best workers, manage workforce lifecycle, and use smarter apps to enable your workforce today. Learn more about digital transformation for the agribusiness industry here.

Eric Somitsch

About Eric Somitsch

Eric Somitsch is Senior Director of Solution Management for Agribusiness and Commodity Management at SAP.