Improving Communications to Stabilize the Work Force

Labor. Finding and retaining good help is a universal concern among New York’s farmers. Mary Jo Dudley with the Cornell Farmworkers Program is helping dairy farmers develop strategies to improve workplace relations and retain their workers.

This article was developed for the 2014 NYFVI annual report. More information about Dudley’s work can be found here.

Their process was fairly straightforward, Dudley and her bilingual team conducted a series of interviews with 29 farm owners and managers, and 23 focus groups with 125 farm workers.  This allowed them to identify what farmers are doing well with their workforce, as well as farm specific areas of conflict and misunderstanding.

On a macro level, owners are concerned about labor shortages, retention and transitioning to, and managing a Hispanic workforce.  Farmworkers also have concerns. Many would like to better understand the criteria for pay increases and time off.  They are also interested in opportunities for training and advancement. Some also indicated a desire to know more about the overall future of the farm. On a personal level, the quality of housing is important.

On a day-to-day basis, chief concerns among owners and managers include maintaining proper milking procedures, meeting milk quality targets, starting milking on time and animal care.

We were able to resolve some
underlying issues, some of which we were not even aware of.”

Mike McMahon, McMahon’s E-Z Acres, Homer New York

Drawing from research data, project staff facilitated discussions designed to address farm specific issues, improve workplace communication, and increase productivity.

Often farmers are surprised by what they learn. One farmer realized that he did not conduct formal performance reviews with his Hispanic workers, although he had done so with the local employees.  To overcome the barriers involved, the project staff worked with the farm owner, managers and workers to develop evaluation tools that are culturally appropriate for a low-literacy workforce. 

From these interactions, a guidebook Building an Effective Work Team on your Dairy Farm was developed with recommendations of best practices for dairy team building. Bilingual tools developed range from sample work contract and understanding paystubs, to housing maintenance checklists and production charts.