The 2010 annual AgProfessional Salary Survey showed a mixed bag of changes for applicators, agronomists, general managers and agronomy department managers. In the 11th year of the survey, applicators and agronomy department managers’ average salaries increased compared to last year’s while salaries for agronomists and general managers decreased.

Salary Changes

The most significant increase in average salaries among the four categories questioned occurred with the agronomy department managers. Their salaries reported by this year's respondents increased $14,745 from 2009's average salaries. In 2010, agronomy department managers averaged $65,875 per year, which is up from $51,130 in 2009's survey. Salaries in 2010 ranged from $42,000 to $135,000 with 35 percent of these managers making $70,000 or more.



The average salary for applicators also increased. Their salaries increased $1,676 to $40,721 compared to last year's $39,045. Salaries for applicators ranged from $30,000 to $60,000 in this year's survey.



On the other hand, agronomists and general managers’ average salaries decreased from 2009 levels, although not greatly.



Agronomists' average salaries decreased by $1,676 compared to 2009 levels. In 2010, the average agronomist was making $49,224. In last year’s survey, agronomists earned on average $50,482. This year, agronomist salaries ranged from $27,000 to $80,000.



General managers saw the smallest decline in average salaries from 2009 to 2010. Their average salaries decreased $468 in 2010 to $77,243 compared to $77,711 in 2009.



Average hourly wages for applicators, agronomists, general managers and agronomy department managers were calculated a bit differently this year. In the past, average hourly salaries were determined by dividing the average annual salary by 50-hour work weeks for all positions. In 2010, the average hourly wage is calculated by dividing average annual salary by the actual average hours calculated for the specific responsibility. We also recalculated 2009 hourly wages the same way. This new calculation was determined to be more accurate, based on all the overtime hours.



As a result, all but the agronomists' average hourly wages increased. Agronomist average hourly wages dropped from $19.26 per hour last year, as recalculated, to $18.68, which is a difference of 58 cents. Applicators' average hourly wages increased from $13.91 in 2009 to $14.83 in 2010. General managers' average hourly wages increased from $27.90 to $28.39, and agronomy department managers' hourly wages increased from $19.11 to $24.08.



AgProfessional does not speculate as to what caused the increase or decrease in average salaries. The year-to-year respondents and their operation’s size are likely the most significant influences on the results. 

The Size and Sales by Dealership

Two of the influences on salaries are the size of the dealerships in terms of acres served and total annual sales. In the 2010 results, there was a significant increase in sales per dealership with four respondents greatly influencing the final results. This year, sales ranged from $1 million to $1 billion, the highest sales ever recorded in Salary Survey history. The average total sales was $26,335,680, which is an increase of more than $9 million from $17,044,482 in 2009. Although no significant contributing factor can be inferred from the data, it is interesting considering 2009 was considered a difficult production year.



Acres served per dealerships showed an increase as well this year, with the average being 116,719 acres in 2010. That represents an increase of 2,933 acres above 2009. Respondents reported individual dealerships in this year’s survey served anywhere between 8,000 to 1 million acres, which is similar to last year's range of 5,000 to 1 million acres.



Another factor that influences salaries is the number of employees at the company. This year's respondents indicated they had anywhere from two to 400 employees with an average of 37.2 employees. However, if these big four respondents with the highest number of employees were removed from the list, the average number of employees dropped to 28.2 employees.

Bonus Determinations

In comparing average annual bonuses from 2009 to 2010, only general managers saw an increase in the average bonus amount they were paid, which is in keeping with their higher overall average salary in 2010. General managers' average bonus was $20,002 compared to $15,388 in 2009. That's an increase of $4,614.



On the other hand, bonuses for applicators, agronomists and agronomy department managers decreased slightly. Applicators had the most significant decrease with their average bonus dropping $1,258 to an average of $4,845. Behind applicators, agronomy department managers saw a substantial drop in bonuses compared to last year with a $4,824 decrease, but as we noted, it appears their salaries were higher and not as much bonus based this year. Their average bonus for 2010 was $10,699. Agronomists had the smallest decrease of $866 to settle at $8,613 compared to last year's $9,479.



Interestingly, 18.4 percent of the ag retailers reported that more bonuses were distributed to applicators than a year ago, which is up from 8.1 percent last year. Agronomists also received more bonuses than compared to a year ago with 24.5 percent giving bonuses this year. Last year, 19 percent agreed to giving more bonuses.



In addition to calculating average bonuses and if bonuses are more than previous years, the salary survey also asks respondents how their bonuses are determined. We always get a range of answers every year, but we have broken them down in several categories. Although the percentages changed, the top determinate for each employee group remained the same. For applicators, the number of acres applied determined their bonuses (59 percent). Sales determined the bonuses for agronomists (64 percent). Profit determined the most bonuses for general managers and agronomy department managers (86 percent and 63 percent, respectively).

CCA Certification

Whether respondents are CCA certified varied about as much as salaries and bonuses in this year's survey. An increase in CCA certification was noted this year with agronomists, general managers and agronomy department managers. Applicators and agronomy department assistant managers indicated a lesser percentage of CCA certified members.



The average percent of agronomists who were CCA certified this year was 82 percent. Last year, 80 percent had agronomists who were CCA certified. Forty-four percent of general managers were CCA certified compared to 38 percent last year. And agronomy department managers totaled 74 percent who were certified compared to 62 percent in 2009.



Applicators who were CCA certified was down this year with 12 percent compared with 17 percent last year. Agronomy department assistant manager CCA certification was down slightly too, 28 percent instead of 33 percent last year.



There is no indication other than the randomness of the respondents who chose to answer the survey as to why some had more CCA certified employees when compared to previous years. On the whole, agronomists and agronomy department managers maintain the highest percentage of their employees as having CCA certification, which is to be expected with their occupation and responsibilities.

Desired Hiring Qualities

Every year, the Salary Survey asks the managers filling out the survey what qualities they are looking for in the candidates they are interviewing. The top qualities for applicators and agronomists remained the same as last year even though the percentage of answers changed. For both applicators and agronomists, the top quality sought is potential. However, potential slipped this year as the top quality for general managers and agronomy department managers. In 2010, 53 percent of general managers and agronomy department managers were being hired for experience. In both cases, potential slipped to second place with education coming in a distant third.



It appears that agribusinesses surveyed are more willing to give applicators and agronomists a chance when starting out than requiring them to have prior experience. This is in keeping with the attitude that if you get the right person, you can train them to do anything the position requires. It also suggests that the industry values the process of evaluating a candidate's personality and attitude. Overall, the industry remains optimistic in its hiring practices for finding that right person for the right price, which has become so critical in this industry.

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