people; discipline

Farm management: Human resources – how to handle your people (Part 1)

All the technical knowledge in the world means nothing if you can’t work with your staff. Managing people is the most challenging area for any farm manager or owner.

The mistake some smaller farmers make is to think human resource management (HRM) is only for big companies; in fact, it applies to any farmer – even if he only has 1 or 2 workers.

In most countries there are laws about employing people. For example, the law states the minimum wage to be paid to farm workers.

In this article I’m concerned with human decency. How we treat our workers and how we pay them for their work, is going to affect our bottom line – how much money we make on the farm.

Also read: Sound management gives a business the edge

We all tend to think only about the prices we get for our products, and that if we deduct our expenses from our income we will see how much money we have made. It’s not that simple – people often forget the impact workers have on producing and marketing those crops. The quality of their work adds either value to the crop, or extra cost. And no sensible farmer wants the latter.

Please understand that HRM is very different from any other resource management on your farm. Human beings are complex creatures with needs, opinions, egos, feelings, good points, bad points and so on.

Finding solutions to problems is not like ordering a spare part for a broken tractor. When it comes to people, and their problems, you have to consider many factors in order to motivate them or successfully manage them. Let’s consider just three basic rules.


After the basic human requirements of survival and shelter, recognition is probably the most important need we all have. To some, it’s standing in front of a huge crowd and being cheered, to others, it’s as simple as, “Good morning Michael, how are you today?”

Notice I used his name – very important. If you use the person’s name you focus on him or her, which shows respect as well as recognition.

In the work situation, recognition can be given in many ways: a friendly “hello”, or a sincere “thank you” for a job well done can mean a lot to a worker. There’s nothing worse than a manager who ignores people.

It only takes seconds to give recognition and if you smile, you’ve actually performed a small miracle. Instead of a grumpy worker complaining about the unfriendly boss and doing as little as possible, you have somebody who gets on with the job and is productive.

A good rule to follow when giving recognition for a job well done, is to try to do so in front of other workers. The person you’re thanking feels good and the other workers realise that they could also enjoy such recognition.

Another form of recognition is to ask someone’s advice or opinion. Most people appreciate the manager’s asking them for their opinion. It shows that he or she recognises that person’s ability and understanding of the job.


This means: get to know your workers. If you have only a few people working for you, you should make the effort to find out about each one of them, where they come from, their family, what they have done in their lives, what they would like to do in the future, what other interests/hobbies/sports they enjoy and so on.

Each of the things I’ve listed can contribute to understanding people better so you can manage them better.

Two examples:
1. If you find out what someone has done in the past, it helps you to give him a task for which he has experience and can therefore do a better job.
2. If you find out what he would like to do in the future, it helps you to “plan a path” for him on your farm. It gives him a purpose to be working for you.

Connecting is another way of giving recognition and also helps you to understand your workers better. Employing somebody effectively is not only a good human requirement; it also makes business sense.


We all like to know we’re doing our jobs properly. As a manager, you should make time to be with that person while he or she is busy and spend a few minutes chatting about the job.

Notice that I use the word “chatting”, not “talking”. I believe this is a time to be less formal and to put that person at ease. If you do, you’ll get a better response. Ask questions such as, “How’s it going?” “Do you have everything you need for the job?” “Do you think this is the best way to do this job – or how would you do it?”

The principle I’m trying to establish is that if you show interest in that person and his/her job, you are giving recognition, connecting and, above all, creating a situation for a happy worker and better productivity.

Also read: Implement your plans properly

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

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