The 5 latest trends in agriculture’s labor market

March 21, 2023
Nelson Neale, head of CHS global research, discusses agriculture’s labor shortage and shares insights for recruiting and retaining the next generation of ag workers.

From farms to local cooperatives, agriculture employers need help finding and retaining top talent. Nelson Neale, head of CHS global research, says several factors have amplified labor shortages in agriculture in recent years.

Pandemic scars remain

In addition to driving today’s inflationary pressures, the COVID pandemic was a catalyst for labor shortages. During the pandemic, many baby boomers left the workforce based on health concerns and financial considerations. Open positions became the norm, especially in rural areas where it’s typically harder to land top talent.

Neale says that prime-age workers, between 25 and 54 years old, felt taxed with caring for elderly parents or homeschooling children during the pandemic. “Many employees opted to leave the workforce during the pandemic to focus on family obligations, which stretched the labor market even more,” he explains. As the world bounces back from the pandemic, its scars remain evident for many employers as they try to fill workforce gaps.

Immigration reform reduces ag workforce

The agriculture industry relies on more immigrant labor than many other industries. Immigrant workers are the backbone of many farm operations, from harvesting produce in California to milking cows in Wisconsin.

“Immigration restrictions and regulations adopted during President Trump’s time in office made it harder for workers to enter the U.S. to support the agricultural labor force. It was another gut punch to the industry at an already difficult time,” says Neale. He anticipates ag labor shortages to continue, perhaps for another three years.

Generational differences influence recruiting and retention

Fortunately, the agriculture industry has an opportunity to tap a new generation of workers to meet labor demands. Generation Z workers, often defined as those born between 1995 and 2012, tend to share unique characteristics that could impact agriculture’s access to talent.

Gen Zers are resourceful and tend to have a do-it-yourself mentality, Neale says. And they want a clear career path.

“When this generation of workers joins an organization, they want to know what opportunities are ahead. Employers need to lay out a solid career plan and provide pathways for advancement. Generation Z will not come into your organization and stay in the same position for 10 years,” says Neale. “They need to know they can grow within an organization and the steps to get them there.”

This tech-savvy generation also tends to seek organizations with technological sophistication. “Certainly, agriculture is maybe not as technologically advanced as other industries, but we’ll have to get there if we want to recruit and retain top talent.

“There are many ways in which agriculture can connect with this next-generation workforce,” he adds. “It’s going to be exciting to see where we can end up together.”

Note: This article is part of a six-part series on the trends shaping the future of agriculture. Read other parts of the series:

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