Cows on a farm

Farm labor is a big challenge for many U.S. producers. Factors like COVID-19 pandemic disruptions have complicated the farm labor issue.

Over half the farmers responding to a recent Purdue University survey say they've faced labor shortages in the last two years. Many say they’ve also had difficulty maintaining adequate qualified workforces.

"In 2021, nearly two thirds of respondents said they either had 'some' or 'a lot of difficulty' in hiring adequate labor compared to just three out of 10 respondents in 2020," according to the July 2021 update of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture Ag Economy Barometer report.

Strategies to help maintain peak productivity with the current farm worker shortage:

1. Explore alternate equipment. If you raise row crops, there may be machinery and equipment that can help you stretch existing labor or replace it altogether. Larger implements, for example, can help you get as much done in the field with fewer workers.

2. Change your production systems. Switching from conventional tillage to no-till, for example, can cut down on your field operations and required laborers to operate the required machinery.

3. Think seasonally. You may be able to hire temporary seasonal workers when year-round, full-time employees are in short supply. Doing so can also help cut your overall labor costs.

4. Explore new technology. Tools like autonomous machinery, drones, telematics and precision ag technology may not completely offset human labor. But they may help you better utilize available (or seasonable) labor. That’s true even if those workers aren’t experienced with running large equipment.

5. Work with outside labor. Some field operations can be conducted by contract operators like custom applicators or harvest crews. If the cost is justifiable, doing so might mean you don’t have to maintain own labor force year-round.

6. Offer incentives for current and new workers. Providing benefits like retirement savings options can help retain and attract labor. A financial planner or human relations specialist can help identify the best options for your farm.

Don’t try to solve your agriculture labor shortages alone

Work with your agronomist, lender and other farm stakeholders to identify the changes that will work best on your farm. And check with your Nationwide Farm Certified agent to make sure you have the right coverage options for any major changes to overcome your farm labor challenges.

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