Empowering Farm Owners to Create Employee Stake in Farm Business Success

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2024: $48,566.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Farm Commons
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Eva Moss
Farm Commons
Rachel Armstrong
Farm Commons


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Employee turnover is a serious
problem for farm businesses as operators encounter challenges
with recruiting and maintaining trained workers. Turnover isn’t
just a quality-of-life problem, it’s also a financial problem
hurting the overall profitability of farm businesses. It’s
significant enough to hinder the growth and stability of
sustainable agriculture. In 2022, 350 farm jobs in North Carolina
were filled by U.S. workers, but reports show that virtually all
of them quit before their contract expired. Why? Workers say the
top reason they leave positions on farms is the lack of
compensation and benefits for the work performed. Without these
incentives, farm employers are vulnerable to labor loss which
translates to lost time, money, and resources, risking the
viability of the farm business. 

Farm employers need
forward-thinking compensation and benefits aimed at keeping their
employees. Incentives of bonus pay, raises, and health and
retirement benefits incentivize longevity in a career on the farm
through more control over one’s economic future and a greater
return on their hard work. Farm employers are vulnerable to
turnover if they don’t have a plan for advancing employee
compensation alongside profitability. For employers wanting to
create a forward thinking compensation plan, many don’t know how
to do so in alignment with the law.

Farm Commons’ comprehensive guide
meets this need by helping Southern farm employers address the
legal and practical implications of structuring employee
contracts to include (1) bonuses, (2) pay raises, and (3) health
and retirement benefits. Our guides aren’t just pages of text
about the law, athough we provide detailed knowlege. They are
plain-language and interactive with reflection exercises and
activity prompts incorporated into the text, empowering readers
to understand and identify what they need to do to develop
creative compensation packages that mitigate the risk of employee
turnover according to their goals, budget, and scale. A worksheet
will accompany the written guide to help producers identify which
options they want to pursue.

We don’t stop there, recognizing
that opportunities to discuss these options with peers is key to
developing new practices and behaviors. We will convene a group
of producers in the Southern region who want to develop employee
stake in their business to review and discuss their lived
experience in relation to the guide, in what we call the Producer
Experience Team (PET). We will collect their feedback to
incorporate into the final guide. After publication, we will host
a webinar promoting the guide where attendees will learn about
employee-stake building through bonuses and benefits with PET
members sharing their experiences pursuing these options. Webinar
attendees will also have the option to engage in small group
disicussions to share their ideas and questions with peers to
help build their confidence in ideas for moving forward in a
supportive, peer-based environment.

This multi-modal approach to
education empowers farm employers with options for beginning the
process of creating employee stake in the business, creating a
cohesive plan for how they want to move forward with
opportunities for peer support along the way.

Project objectives from proposal:

  1. 300 producers improve their
    knowledge of the 3 options for developing employee stake in
    farm business success. This is 48% of the 625 producers this
    project will reach.
  2. 3 producers in the Southern
    region assume leadership among peers on proactive prevention of
    employee turnover after participating in the Producer
    Experience Team process. 
  3. 65 producers feel empowered to
    implement one of the 3 options for employee stake building in
    their farm business. This is 10% of farmers reached through the
    project as a whole, consistent with past experience.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.