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Skin in the game helps to retain quality farm staff

Corowa, New South Wales grower Beau Longmire takes a team approach to attracting and retaining quality employees.
Photo: Mark Jesse, Border Mail

Southern New South Wales grain grower Beau Longmire has had long-term success as a football player in district competitions, so he is well aware of the value of teamwork.

Most of the 11 full-time employees who work on his 1700-hectare Corowa grain growing property have some personal investment in parts of the business, and it is this “skin in the game” that he believes helps him to retain quality staff.

Beau grows wheat, canola, barley and irrigated corn on the property, as well as running a substantial contracting business and share farming on 800ha additional to the home property.

Not all employees participate in the approach that Beau describes as “alternative reward strategies”, and he acknowledges that it costs the business money, but he believes it is the best way of sustainably growing his own business, as well as keeping good staff.

“All good people will end up getting poached – or working for themselves – if you are not rewarding them financially or providing a good work environment. We want to retain our staff, because a substantial amount of time and investment goes into them,” Beau says.

Different strategies

The approach is currently based on machinery ownership, although Beau sees opportunities for different strategies in the future. Staff have been offered an opportunity to co-invest in machinery, which is then hired out to other businesses.

Not all staff are involved, he says, and some choose to be paid a higher hourly wage rather than investing. “It depends upon each individual’s appetite for risk, and there are multiple different approaches. It is about working out what they want, and then working with them.”

The approach was born out of a “crossroads moment” that was reached with a long-term employee who was likely to leave the business. “We reached a point where we could either let that person go, or we could choose to be involved in his growth.”

Ultimately, if staff are also investing a lot in the business, they are going to feel involved.

Beau says the approach has meant the business no longer has to go looking for employees. “In the past we used social media to look for casual employees. A percentage of those people would be identified as potential full-time employees, and then a percentage of those would be offered the chance to pursue a co-investment or syndication opportunity.

“Generally, now potential staff approach us. And we get quite a bit of inquiry from other growers about how we retain such a group of high-quality employees.”

There is no secret formula, he says. “I believe that people should be paid for every hour they work, so none of our staff are on a salary. We try to be as generous as we can, so we do things like take people out for lunch on a Friday, and provide high-quality vehicles that they have for some personal use.

“Ultimately, if they are also investing a lot in the business, they are going to feel involved. We believed it was important to come up with an alternative strategy to allow them to be rewarded financially, and then want to remain with the business.”

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