New baselines emerged in the 2011 annual Salary Survey compared to last year. Every year, AgProfessional conducts an informal survey of subscribers, who are managers, requesting they answer questions about their retail business, benefits, time off and salaries for applicators, agronomists, general managers and agronomy department managers. This is the twelfth year for the survey.

The most dramatic difference in data collected this year from last year was the significant rise in acres served per company. Also up significantly this year was the number of employees per agronomy operation. Respondents indicated that acres per ag retailer ranged widely from 3,200 acres to 60 million acres. If the three dealerships with the highest amount of acreage are dropped from the calculations, the average acres served drops from 789,264 acres to 168,017, which is much closer to last year’s average of 116,719 acres per operation. The top three responses came from huge operations with multiple outlets. Acres served by dealership in the 2010 Salary Survey ranged from 8,000 to only 1 million acres.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents indicated this year that they had increased the number of acres served. Although the reason for the dramatic increase in acres and employees is not easily apparent, it is probably a combination of three reasons. Consolidation within the industry is likely creating larger companies, each dealership location is serving more acres and larger dealerships completed the survey this year.

Salary Trends

Trends in salaries varied this year by group. Applicators and agronomists had higher average salaries, whereas general managers and agronomy department managers earned slightly less in this year’s survey. The group with the highest average increase in salary this year was the applicators. Their average salary increased from $40,721 in 2010 to $43,945 in 2011. With the exception of 2008, average salaries for applicators have been gradually rising every year since 2005, when the average salary for an applicator was $31,984.

Agronomists also had an increase in their average salaries, according to this year’s data. In 2010, an agronomist’s average salary was $49,224, which was a slight decline from 2009. In 2011’s survey, agronomists’ average salary increased to $53,551.

Managers did not fare as well in this year’s survey. Average salaries for both general managers and agronomy department managers were less this year compared to last year. For general managers, average salaries decreased from $77,243 in 2010 to $74,170 in 2011. Agronomy department managers’ average salaries changed from $65,875 in 2010 to $64,058 in 2011. Although both managers’ average salaries decreased, the percentage they decreased was not statistically significant. These decreases are likely due to the pool of respondents that answered the questions this year. If these two groups are being paid less, then it would be logical that applicators and agronomists would be paid less, too, but that doesn’t hold true. The value of the lower level employees seems to be driving their salaries higher, along with them working more hours than ever.

Average hourly wages for applicators, agronomists, general managers and agronomy department managers were calculated again like last year with the average hourly wage being determined by dividing average annual salary by the average hours worked for the specific position/responsibility.

For applicators, average hourly wages decreased from $14.83 per hour in 2010 to $13.52 in 2011. For agronomists, average hourly wages increased from $18.68 per hour in 2010 to $20.05 in 2011. General managers’ average hourly wages decreased from $28.39 per hour to $27.44. Agronomy department managers’ average hourly wages decreased from $24.08 per hour in 2010 to $23.35 per hour in 2011.

Average hours worked by applicators was up significantly in 2011 at 65 hours. Last year, the average was 54.9 hours. For agronomists, average hours worked per week was 53.4, up from 52.7 hours last year. For general managers, average hours worked per week was 54.05, compared to 54.4 hours last year. For agronomy department managers, average hours worked was 54.85 compared to 54.7 last year.

Bonuses And How They’re Determined

Repeating the patterns of salaries for applicators and agronomists, bonuses for these same groups increased, while bonuses for general managers and agronomy department managers decreased compared to last year’s data.

Applicator bonuses increased from an average of $4,845 in 2010 to $4,903 in 2011; that is only an increase of $58. Agronomists’ average bonus increased from $8,613 in 2010 to $8,723 in 2011, which is an increase of $110.

The average bonus for the general manager group this year decreased from $20,002 in 2010 to $14,217 in 2011, which is a significant $5,785 drop. The average annual bonus for agronomy department managers decreased from $10,699 in 2010 to $9,203 in 2011, which is a decrease of $1,496.

In addition to asking the amount of bonuses retail employees receive annually, we also asked how their bonuses are determined. In all but the applicator’s group, bonuses were primarily determined by company profit. For applicators, the majority (44 percent) had their bonuses determined by the amount of acres treated. For agronomists, 47.6 percent said company profit determined their bonus compared with the other survey choices of acres managed/number of customers assisted (0 percent), individual sales (28.6 percent), and overall job performance (23.8 percent).

For general managers, 77.8 percent said company profit mainly determined their bonus. Company sales determined bonuses for 6.7 percent, while discretionary job performance determined bonuses for 15.6 percent.

Fifteen percent of agronomy department managers indicated that their bonuses were determined by their department’s profit. Company profit came in at 54 percent, while department sales were 16 percent and job performance/discretionary came in at 15 percent.

A total of 23.7 percent of applicators saw higher bonuses distributed to them this year compared to last year when 18.4 percent saw a higher bonus than the prior year. Agronomists also had an increase in bonus dollars distributed to them than a year ago at 34.1 percent; this compares with 24.5 percent last year.

Dealership Sales and Employees

Although the sales per company was a similar range as last year, average sales per company or ag retail operation were surprisingly different. In 2011, annual sales reported ranged from $850,000 to $900 million. Last year, companies reported sales ranging from $1 million to $1 billion. In 2011, the average sales amount was $47,218,847 per ag retailer company, which is significantly higher than last year’s average of $26,335,680.

What could account for this trend is a larger number of retail operations with multiple outlets taking the survey. This likely explains the higher number of employees per company seen this year, too. The number of employees ranged from 2 to 3,075 in 2011, whereas last year, respondents had 2 to 400 employees. This raised the average number of employees from 37.2 last year to 100.4 in 2011. If four of the respondents with the largest number of employees were dropped from the calculations, the average number of employees by dealership dropped to 45, which is much more comparable to last year’s data.

Hiring Qualities

Another aspect of the survey that we’ve been asking for several years, requires respondents to indicate the most desired qualities of the candidates they hire. This year, for applicators, the most desired quality was potential (75 percent), with the other 25 percent saying experience was the most important quality. Zero percent said education was the most important quality in hiring applicators. This trend seems to indicate that employers are looking to train applicators if they show a good attitude and willingness to learn. Having experience was good, but not a requirement.

For agronomists, the most desired quality also was potential (67.4 percent), with 30.2 percent indicating experience was more important and 2.3 percent said education was the most important quality.

For general managers, the most desired quality was potential (55.3 percent). Experience came in close with 42.6 percent, while education was last with 2.1 percent.

For agronomy department managers, experience was the most desired quality (56.3 percent). The potential of the candidate was important for 43.8 percent and 0 percent for education.

The trend seems to indicate that experience is prized when putting someone in charge of the agronomy department. That is probably because specialized agronomy knowledge and an excellent business background are both necessary and a hard combination to find.

Editor’s Note: All responses to this survey are kept confidential. No names were collected with this survey. This is not a scientific poll, and the data is only used for the purposes of this article. We thank all those who participated in this year’s survey.