Research in Progress: Unpacking the Farm Labor Puzzle

Our Guest Blogger this week is Mary Peabody. Mary works for University of Vermont Extension. She reports on an team effort to examine the best practices of farmers in terms of effective labor management.  This work matches the Power of Business effort rural small business owners are encouraged to network with other business owners to help answer questions. This post is used with permission. It was originally posted on OOct 9th, 2015 at: 

Farm workerOctober 2015.  One of the strategies new farmers often use to learn their craft is to observe and talk with other farmers that appear to be having success in similar operations. In fact, farmer-to-farmer learning has a very high preference score in nearly every aspect of farmer training

In this research project, we are using the same principle to identify labor management practices. By interviewing experienced farmers who also appear to be effective labor managers we are learning about the process of recruiting, hiring, training and retaining the right employees.

Throughout the summer and fall our research team has been conducting interviews with farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As we collect their stories about what works and what doesn’t we’ll be looking for themes to emerge and building our next research phase from these findings.

In the meantime, no reason not to share a few of the pearls that have emerged from these interviews. So, a few keys to successful farm labor management from the experts in the field:

  • Be clear in your own mind about your business goals before you begin hiring.
  • Detailed job descriptions are critical. It sounds so obvious but an accurate, detailed job description is no simple matter.
  • Have prospective workers visit the farm so that you can meet with them face-to-face and observe them in your farm setting.
  • Do not expect farm workers to learn every aspect of the business right away. Manage the training so that the employee has time to master one activity before taking on something new.

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project. And if you are a farmer that has successfully Female farm workernavigated the farm labor maze and you’d like to share your tips and strategies with us please contact us — we’d love to talk with you!

Thanks to all the farmers who gave us their time so generously in the heat of the growing season. You Rock!!

If you’d like to participate in this research project please email

[In March 2014 UVM Extension, with several UVM research faculty and colleagues from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin was awarded a 3-year integrated research and extension grant to look at labor management practices on small and medium-sized farms. The goal of this project is to identify clusters of labor management practices that “successful” farmers are using and develop decision tools that make these tools more available to other farms.]

The research team:

  • Mary Peabody, UVM Extension
  • Jason Parker, UVM Plant and Soil Science
  • Kathleen Liang, UVM Community Development and Applied Economics
  • Seth Wilner, UNH Cooperative Extension
  • Carolyn Sachs, Pennsylvania State University
  • John Hendrickson, University of Wisconsin Extension
  • Beth Holtzman, UVM Extension
  • Monica Petrella, UVM Graduate Student

NIFA AFRI Award #2014-68006-21873

Networking: Where You Can Find Answers to Your Questions


Photo (CC 2.0) by USDA, on Flickr

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a meeting sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association. It was a great reminder on how much information you can learn by networking with other business owners.

While in the hallways and during the breaks, you could not help but notice small groups or even just a couple of individuals having good conversations.  If you listened in, a lot of information about management practices was being exchanged.

Yes, some of the conversations dealt with current events and sports but that’s okay. Those conversations help build relationships and trust between individuals. It also gave insight into trends and future changes impacting your business, something crucial to you as a business owner.

Effective networking is a key in business success.  Effective networking helps you get answers. It helps brand your business and it is a great marketing channel.

There are lots of opportunities to network. You should join organizations such as your Chamber as well as social organizations. You can also find trade organizations and industry organizations. I would also urge you to consider organizations such as the family business meeting I attended.

Many of you probably operate a family business. They are unique ventures that blend both the business system and the family system. Merging those two systems requires some special management and operational considerations. The best place to learn those skills is in working with other family business owners.

Effective networking can make a big difference in your business. Make the effort and you will find lots of benefits.

For more tips on networking, check out our video and tip sheet.


Checking In – Oregon Wood Innovation Center

carousel-item-1[1]At times we check back in with a previous blogger to see what’s new.

Our guest blogger, Scott Leavengood is the Director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center (OWIC). As part of Extension and the College of Forestry. their mission is to connect people, ideas and resources in the wood industry.

In 2013, Scott highlighted a wooden bicycle helmet that one client was working on.  The client, Coyles Design and Build, continues to manufacture and sell the product.

The Center’s website provides stories from other clients. You can read about them here.

Scott noted that they have also produced a wood-based entrepreneurs toolkit.  That can be found at: Several of the resources come in a Flipbook version.

OWIC is just one example of small business support that Extension and land-grant universities offer. If your in business and haven’t checked out this resource, it’s time to do so. Here is a list to find who is available in your state.

Cybersecurity and Your Small Business

If you have a small business, you are faced with a a cybersecurity risk.

Cybersecurity is not one of the catchy topics that small business owners often plan for in their business. Yet sixty percent of small businesses end up shutting the doors if they end up with a data breach. Think of all your hard work that is quickly lost.

Plus more and more of security breaches, now just over 70%, are targeted at small businesses. One of the reasons is,  unlike bigger companies, small businesses spend less time and money on trying to ensure such things don’t happen.

Mary Peabody, University of Vermont, and Steve Hadcock, Cornell, discussed these issues during the October Friday Chat, Why Hackers Love Your Small Business.

In the chat you will hear them talk about how a small business owner can protect themselves, doing business with other firms who might be hacked and how that might affect your business, and password software.

Mary shares two online resources:

It’s important that you plan your online security as well as how you will respond if it happens to you.

So grab a cup of coffee and take 15 minutes to protect your small business and your investment. 

PS – Next month we will offer more resources plus discuss how you can protect your customers information. Sign up at: