New Book Helps Agriculturist Manage Labor, Human Resources

In spite of the technological leaps science has made to improve and increase agricultural and horticultural production, the success of individual producers still heavily relies on the sweat of physical labor. Savvy management of human resources in the industry relates directly to a producer’s bottom line. But managing human resources on farms, ranches, nurseries, dairies and other agricultural related businesses can be a task that is unique compared to human resource management in other industries, and it often is a duty undertaken by someone with little formal training in human resource management.

A group of agricultural business experts from universities in the West, along with a colleague from the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have put together a guidebook, called Ag Help Wanted, that can help agricultural professionals better manage their labor resources.

"Does it really matter how agricultural labor is managed? Definitely," said Jeff Tranel, a co-author of the book and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agricultural and business management economist. "We hope that in some measure this handbook will enhance managers’ mindfulness about the decisions made in managing labor, constraints on them, options in management practice, the effects of alternative approaches on business operations and the personal lives of employers, employees and their family members."

The book outlines inventive ideas that managers currently use to help them meet human resource needs; what the roles and responsibilities of an agricultural and horticultural employee are; organizational planning such as legal requirements and ergonomic principals that reduce injuries; staffing agricultural businesses; supervising agricultural work; management styles; strategies to develop teamwork; managing employee performance; benefits; pay structures; communication and problem solving.

"The book provides information to help managers make choices that are reasonable, legal and ultimately effective for both their business and the people they employ," said Tranel. "Manpower is critically important to all agricultural production, and it has never been more important to manage hired employees well in agriculture. Risks are higher and opportunities lost on farms equate to lower profits – and profits are essential for managers to sustain in this tight market."

The 242-page book can be used as a source for ideas to improve management strategies and as a reference when addressing problems. Ag Help Wanted weaves useful information with practical examples, regulatory outlines, references and management principals.

The book is supported with extensive supplementary material that is linked to the book’s Web site, This information includes hundreds of links to useful resources such as regulatory agencies and service organizations as well as useful forms and one-minute videos depicting examples of management tactics.

Along with Tranel, co-authors of the book are Howard R. Rosenberg, an agricultural labor management expert University of California at Berkley; Richard Carkner, recently retired farm management Cooperative Extension specialist and professor emeritus at Washington State University; John P. Hewlett, farm and ranch management specialist at the University of Wyoming; Lorne Owen, marketing, trade and intergovernmental relations analyst for the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Trent Teegerstrom, agricultural and resource economics research specialist at the University of Arizona; and Randy Weigel, family and consumer sciences associate professor and Cooperative Extension specialist at the University of Wyoming.