My Way of Thinking: Ag Retailer Employees Invest Long Hours

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Each ag retailer has the records to show the percentage of income generated per month, but I wouldn’t doubt 50 percent of a full year’s income by many ag retailers that provide custom application services in the Midwest is generated during a two-month period each spring.

This year, two months of income, or at least the work associated with that income, might have been squeezed into one month. I know that the payments don’t come in during one or two months because of pre-pay or invoices with provisions for scheduled payments.

What happens every spring is that employees end up working extremely hard in a short period of time, and squeeze more work into less time, like what occurred this spring. This extra workload squeeze seems kind of impossible based on how application equipment operators and nurse truck operators have described their “normal” spring jobs to me. I recently spoke with an application crew for a co-op near Kansas City. I was told those 16-hour days start taking their toll.

The AGCO Application Equipment Operator of the Year program has been around for eight years as of 2013, and over the years, I’ve interviewed many of the candidates, and each of them amazes me with their dedication to put in those crazy hours for 20 to 30 years consecutively. The mental fortitude to push through another season has to come from the knowledge that it will be two months out of 12 months, if they are lucky.        

The website Web Poll in early May asked how ag retailers were going to deal with the short-season spring to provide customers with service. And 47 percent of those answering the question said applicator operators would be working many more hours per week. Twenty-five percent of those answering the poll also noted that their ag retailer operations would be working into the night.

There was no real consideration for adding more seasonal help to meet customer needs as only 6 percent said they were planning to add seasonal help for a condensed spring workload. Probably it’s because there really aren’t experienced employees available to add for a short time.

Ag retailers report how hard it is to find full-time, year-round employees, let alone seasonal help. Jim Ruen has written about the attempt to graduate more college students pursuing agricultural degrees in an article that starts on page 26. What he wasn’t able to answer is how many urban students are willing to live in small-town America where everybody knows each other and each other’s “business.” Also, are long hours a consideration when comparing jobs and pay?  

Farmers are putting in the hours because they own the business, and know the two months of spring can make or break their profit margin for the year. That’s why once Midwest farmers were finally able to get into the fields by mid-May in most areas, equipment rolled fast and furious.

An example was the rapid planting of corn in Iowa with only 15 percent of the corn being planted as of May 12, according to the USDA planting report, and 71 percent having been planted by May 19. Illinois’ planting proceeded just as fast from 17 percent on May 12 to 74 percent as of May 19. Missouri was the next fastest going from 28 percent to 70 percent during that same one-week period. The rapid planting basically had the percentage of planted corn acres on track with the four-year average by May 19.

So, what looked like the possibility of many corn acres being switched to soybeans became a non-issue. Now, the question becomes how will the weather turn out for growing those bumper crops?

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