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When it comes to finding and employing great labor to farm industrial hemp, hemp farmers need to play by the rules and act professionally. Any small business will tell you that successfully finding and managing labor is the make or break-it problem for the success of their operations. Hemp farms are no different, but because they are #1 a farm and #2 a cannabis farm, managing hemp farm and finding reliable, competent help can be even more of an uphill battle.
Most labor problems will be avoided from the beginning with clear communications, a thoughtful and supportive work plan and realistic expectations. Here’s the top six things hemp farm operators should think about when it comes to hiring and managing their farm labor.
You might be surprised how many potential employees think working on a hemp farm means they will stand around smoking weed and partying with their friends while trimming bud. The best way to avoid this is to talk about it, right from the initial interview.
Then, remind your employees again (and repeatedly) of this rule. Your hemp farm is a serious business. What they do when not working, that’s their business, but employees can’t be high or drunk while at work. The same standard rules expected of any job apply — show up sober and ready to work!
One of the most demoralizing scenarios on any farm is when you have an overwhelming project to get done and nowhere near enough staff to do it.
Farm labor, hemp work including, is physical work oftentimes performed outside under harsh weather conditions. Keeping your crew to reasonable hours and not overtaxing them means they will show up ready and able to work from day to day.
Avoid being understaffed by starting small with your growing goals, especially if you’re beginning. It’s hard to know how much labor you will truly need until you’ve gone through a season.
Stagger your harvests with more than one planting date. One of the difficult things with keeping farm labor is the fluctuations between not having many tasks you need help with versus a crunch time of needing lots of labor. That makes it hard to find good hands because you can’t offer very reliable employment. Staggering harvests so you always have some work going on means a better likelihood of attracting reliable workers.
If you plan to rely on contract migrant crews or bring in H2 visa workers, plan way ahead for them. Even then, have a back-up plan in mind. You have to remember that it’s not just your farm that is extra busy with harvest in the fall. All the other hemp farms are plus many other farm sectors as well!
As the saying goes, the right tool for the job. Providing your hemp farm laborers with appropriate quality tools means they will be able to perform their job to a high standard of efficiency. Make sure to invest in quality tools and provide a system for taking care of them. If you are using tools that need to be kept sharp, provide each employee with a small hand-file to keep their equipment sharp.
Also, make sure they have appropriate gloves or other protective wear available and make sure they wear it. You don’t want your hands injuring themselves during work hours (that will affect your employment insurance rates as well!).
Always to make sure your employees have plenty of access to water. Incidences of dehydration and heat stroke are rising in farm employees across all sectors (not just in hemp). Your employees need to have free access to water to perform their job and not get sick (or even worse, die!).
It will be hard, to not impossible, for you to continually be in your hemp fields working side-by-side with your employees. You’ll get a phone call or need to arrange a delivery or a service. This is the role of the owner or manager!
But, you don’t want to leave your employees to figure it out in the field by themselves. Always have a designated field leader that is the point person for communicating any issues and makes decisions if you aren’t available. Even if you
think everything is going smoothly, there will invariably be a time when something comes up when you’re gone. That can cause problems if there isn’t a transparent chain of command.
Ideally, this should be your most trusted and experienced employee, but sometimes you have to go with whoever seems best if you’re bringing in a new team. Regardless, having a clear communication chain helps avoid confusion, arguments and misinformation.
Don’t mess around when it comes to following employment rules. Hemp farmers are already under a lot of scrutiny from government employees that aren’t fond of the idea of legal cannabis to start with. You don’t want to give them anything to take issue with!
Ensure you know your state labor laws and follow any federal rules regarding employment, safety standards, and migrant labor crews. Don’t skip on the safety regulations as well. The farming industry is one of the most dangerous employment sectors. Because of that, state and federal labor and industry departments crack down on safety rules and regulations for farms. Don’t be surprised if you get an unannounced L&I inspection on your farm to make sure you’re following all the safety rules.
If you have any questions about what you need to do to stay In line with employment laws, your state employment department is a perfect place to start.
Working on any farm takes a special breed of person. It’s challenging, physically-demanding and exhausting work. But it is also incredibly rewarding. Who wouldn’t rather be out in a hemp field than sitting at a desk or working in a factory job? You’ll expect a lot of your employees. When they provide it, make sure you treat them right. Offer financial rewards through raises or bonuses. And don’t forget the power of a “Thank you” and “That was great work today!”
Surprise your crew with an early day off and farm barbeque. Keeping the morale up during a hard season of work will mean happy faces even during long, hot and sweaty days.
At Colorado Breeders Depot, we offer free farm consultation for any hemp grower that purchases our seeds. We can help you create your seeding, planting, growing and harvest plan, including evaluating your labor needs. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Helping our customers have an excellent hemp harvest is what we’re all about.