Risk-Increasing and Risk-Reducing Practices in Human Resource Management: Focus Group Discussions with Livestock Managers

By Bitsch, Vera; Olynk, Nicole J. | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Risk-Increasing and Risk-Reducing Practices in Human Resource Management: Focus Group Discussions with Livestock Managers


Bitsch, Vera, Olynk, Nicole J., Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics


Historically, managers in livestock production have focused on production management; however, as operations have grown they have spent more time managing employees. Increased time spent overseeing employees brings additional risks and challenges, and, hence, a greater need for human resource management (HRM) skills. This study investigated HRM practices in pork production and analyzed their risk attributes through six focus group discussions with managers. Results were compared to existing data from four dairy focus groups and to other research. The results have been used to develop and adapt educational workshops for managers in pork production.

Key Words: focus group research method, labor management, personnel management, qualitative research, risk management, risk perception

JEL Classifications: B49, M12, M50, M52, M53, M54, M59, Q12, Q19

I think that a lot of us are farmers first and people managers second and it creates a problem as businesses grow because you don't have those people skills. . . . You were raised up raising hogs and growing crops and the farm gets bigger and now you have to manage people. . . . I think some of the bigger farmers that have succeeded have been more people managers as opposed to farmers. . . . I think you can improve but you're never gonna have the skills these other people have. (Small size pork producer)

I think as managers, at least looking back on me, I've grown as much as the employees have grown and changed along with what they've changed. The more employees that we get, the more I learn how to adapt . . . in many different aspects. (Medium size dairy producer)

In 2002 farmers in the United States spent $18.6 billion on hired labor, an increase of over 20% since the previous census in 1997. During the same period expenses for hired labor as a share of the total expenses have also increased from 9.8% to 10.7% (USDA). Because of an increasing share of the hired agricultural workforce being employed on larger farms, training and educational needs of managers are evolving. For these farms to be successful, managers must focus more of their attention on effectively managing employees than on production-related tasks. Human resource management (HRM) has, therefore, become an important focus of their activities.

Historically, training and education for farm managers has focused mainly on agricultural production management and has provided few tools to utilize in HRM. Therefore, there is a need for educational programs for farm managers to teach the tools necessary to attract, select, and maintain a productive team of employees. Skills required to perform these actions successfully include paying attention to legal requirements and fair treatment of employees, assigning tasks, monitoring task performance, and building relationships with employees. Out of the multitude of required skills, farm managers may be least prepared to deal with the difficult situation where employees must be disciplined or terminated.

With HRM becoming more important, the risks stemming from these management tasks have also increased. Main sources of business risk include (1) production and yield risk, (2) price and market risk, (3) financial risk, (4) institutional, legal, and environmental risk, and (5) human resource risk (Baquet, Hambleton, and Jose; Harwood et al.; Musser and Patrick). The first three risk sources have been the focus of management personnel in production agriculture throughout the last century.

Recently livestock managers have devoted increasing attention to institutional, legal, and particularly environmental risks. For example, more stringent regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations and animal feeding operations have led to increased awareness by livestock managers of environmental regulations and their consequences for agricultural operations. On the other hand, the risks associated with human resources are often not explicitly recognized and planned for on farms (Bitsch and Harsh; Bitsch et al. …

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