Supervising summer farm workers

If you’re putting summer students to work on your farm this 
season, these five survival tips could make it easier for everyone

Summer workers provide much-needed support in a farm’s busy season. But if you have summer students in the fields — family or otherwise — it can be easy to overlook the need to share essential information about your expectations and your operation. Here are some key human resources tips to keep in mind before busy season hits. They could save you some complications down the road.

1. Ridealongs aren’t just for farm kids

Seeing is believing. If you’ve hired a worker who doesn’t know your operation as intimately as you do, take the time to familiarize them with the space. Drive through the land that you farm, and be sure to point out what fields are part of your operation. If your farm covers a large area, or is intersected by neighbours’ fields, consider providing a map for new workers. When busy season comes, you’ll want to ensure everyone has a clear idea of which fields need attention, and how to find them.

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Farmer walking toward combine.

2. Explain ‘why’ and ‘what’

Some farm jobs can be time consuming and tedious — but it is essential they are done the right way. Whether you’re cleaning bins, or moving grain, workers will take more satisfaction in accomplishing a task if they understand the reason behind it. Take the time to communicate to summer workers why a job needs to be done a certain way to eliminate the temptation to take shortcuts.

3. Know the rules, and follow them

Does your summer staffer have a driver’s licence that qualifies him or her to drive equipment with air brakes? Even if equipment is travelling a short distance between fields, a valid license is required if it’s using or crossing public roadways. Respect those requirements and save yourself a lot of grief at a critical time, should an accident occur.

4. Ensure young workers are alert

Even the hardest-working summer students need downtime. Be realistic about whether they are prepared to work a 10- or 12-hour day after an evening out, during an extremely hot day or consecutive long days.

And whether workers are well rested or not, beware the mid-afternoon slump. A swathing wheel, for example, can be hypnotic, particularly around 2 p.m. Encourage workers to get out frequently for short rests and walkarounds.

5. Review safety procedures often

Have discussions ahead of time about safety procedures and emergency situations, and ensure your workers know what to do. What’s the plan if they spot a tornado? Do your summer staffers know where fire extinguishers are located in each cab, and how to use them? Be clear about your expectations and your plans for a safe, productive season.

Owen Peddie is a human resources business partner with DuPont

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