CropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain

Must work long hours, often in remote locations, sometimes with spotty cellphone service, spring/summer/fall and some weekends required. Schedule is weather dependent, and no “typical” day in the office.

Does this read anything like your last job description? For many reasons, agriculture can be a very difficult place to find and keep good employees. How do retailers and hiring managers recruit and retain sales and applicator employees?

The recently completed 2014 Retailer Compensation Survey looked at that question and provides an understanding of what retailers across the country are doing to manage this challenge. The survey, completed this spring by the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University and CropLife Magazine, with technical support from employment and recruitment firm Ag1Source, collected responses from nearly 150 agricultural retail location across the country.


Respondents were asked about their expectations for rehiring positions in the next year and five years. Those planning to rehire sales positions in the next 5 years (74% of organizations) reported needing to rehire 26.9% of the sales positions in the next year and 68.7% in the next five years. For applicators, those planning to rehire positions in the next five years (81% of organizations) reported plans to rehire 22.1% of their positions in the next year and 51.8% in the next five years.

Many organizations will have to face the difficult task of finding new employees. To help with this challenge, there are two things those retailers and hiring managers should consider – recruitment and retention. Recruitment is how they will fill the position and retention is how they can, potentially, avoid rehiring all together.


Respondents were asked to report the importance of a candidate pool for the recruitment for hiring. For the sales positions, most (80%) reported internal candidates as important. Also important were firms similar to their own retail organization; likely their competitors.

Of less importance as a candidate pool is “other agricultural firms,” reported by just 37% of respondents. The final candidate pool, non-agricultural firms, was reported as important by only 8% of respondents.

Similar results were reported for hiring applicators. Most respondents reported internal candidates (78%) and similar firms (74%) as important. With 52% reporting other agricultural firms as being an important candidate pool for applicators, this was considerably more important for applicators than for sales positions. Finally, non-agriculture firms were still unpopular as only 11% of organizations reported it as important.

The lack of importance for candidates from non-agricultural firms is especially interesting and, regrettably, the survey does not dig into the reasons. Whether it is a matter of a lack of interest in the positions from non-agriculture candidates or because retailers have not traditionally reached out to this pool, a perception issue exists and retailers that take the issue head-on will have significant advantages. In thinking about the most successful salesperson in your geographic area, is it not possible that a local vehicle salesperson might at the top of the list?

Mike Smith, CEO of Ag 1 Source, recalls that as a former farm center manager, he very much understand the challenge of trying to hire someone that is not from an agricultural background, and attempting to place them into a role such as an applicator driver.

“Somehow, if that driver hadn’t grown up on a farm, they don’t quite get the point that a farmer will be mighty unhappy if your applicator wheels drive over and smash a solid 50 foot strip of corn,” says Smith. “Getting chewed out by your Dad growing up for doing that just really leaves an impression on a young farm kid.”

Sales would be even more difficult of a learning curve, he continues, as most farmers can spot a rookie from a mile away and can easily buffalo someone that doesn’t understand their business.

“That said, our pool of candidates is very slim, and we’ll be forced to consider out of agriculture candidates at some point. The solution may be to develop a mentor and training program that includes training on “farm common sense” issues. Then go get them as young as you can.


Understanding why an employee left your organization can be important. Looking into why an employee left the organization, the most reported category was the ‘other’ option– which included retirement and relocation. This was true for both sales and applications positions.

For the sales positions, about 40% of respondents indicated that a promotion to a similar agricultural firm – likely their local competitors – as a likely reason for someone to leave their organization. A lateral job change within agriculture and a job change outside of the industry were the least likely reason for a salesperson to leave.

Respondents indicated that applicators were about equally likely to leave for a job outside of agriculture (37% likely) as they were to have a promotion to another agricultural firm (35% likely).

Again, the most likely reason for someone leaving a firm was reported as “other.” Future research would benefit from dividing the category into stand-alone options. Retailers would also benefit from tracking this across their entire organization and for each position.


Offering an employee that has a competing job offer a retention package can be a useful strategy for hiring managers to use, especially if the employee is valuable to the organization. While earlier results showed the most likely reason for a salesperson or applicator leaves a company were reasons that make retention difficult if not impossible (retirement, relocation, etc.), retention efforts can be used to reduce the challenge in rehiring some of your organizations positions.

When an employee is presented a competing offer, the most common way organizations handle the situation is by offering a retention package based on their ability and willingness to keep the employee; 47% of organizations reported this as their strategy for sales positions and 43% of organizations for applicators.

For sales positions, the second most common strategy was to make no effort to retain (27% of respondents). For applicator positions, matching the offer (offer similar to competing offer) was the second most common strategy reported by 30% of respondents.

Also for applicators, a very likely strategy was no effort to retain; 21% of respondents. In very few cases, fewer than 8%, respondents said they were willing to exceed a competing offer their sales or application employees had received.

Retention efforts can be a powerful tool for keeping highly qualified employees. It was a bit surprising that no effort to retain the employee was reported so frequently. And when something is done, it is usually based on the retailer’s ability or willingness to retain. Only 25% of respondents indicated they attempted to match or exceed their salespersons competition offer; 37% for applicators.

“In the case of Retention programs, it can be best said, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” adds Smith of Ag 1 Source. “Retention programs should focus on tools such as 360 reviews, improving the supervisor-employee communications, and overall just spending more time with the employee keeping them in the loop on the importance of the business’ mission and objectives. The key is to spend time with your employees before they get a competing offer. Your ability to keep them will be greatly enhanced if you have established and maintain a great level of communication already.”

Final Thoughts

Agricultural retailers will have to think critically about non-agricultural candidates and employers. For sales positions, only 8% of retailers indicated that non-agricultural firms were an important candidate pool while 23% said it was likely that a salesperson left the organization for a non-agricultural firm.

The same trend is observed for applicators. This suggests a one-way talent drain out of agriculture. Smith adds that the demographics point to a startling reduction in available talent entering the work force as compared to those that are retiring. “In many areas, we will have about two experienced veterans retiring for every one entering the work force to replace over the next 10 years,” he says. “That fact alone should be mind-numbing enough to begin developing relationships broader both within and outside of the agricultural talent pool.”

Finding the right person for the job can be difficult, even without the challenges that agriculture can present. Retailers that can develop a successful recruitment and retention plan will distinguish themselves from their competitors and create long-term advantages.

Leave a Reply

Employees Stories

EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Scarce
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Employee Training Employees at Silverado Ranch Supply receive monthly training that focuses on how to read labels, handle hazardous materials, document use of hazardous and other materials, and actions to take in an emergency situation. Source: Lindsay Dixon, consultant, Silverado Ranch Supply, Yerington, NV
EmployeesA New Approach To Employee Retention — Part 2
November 3, 2015
In part 1, we discussed the impact of employee turnover on an organization’s profitability, and the disconnect between employer and Read More
Prairieland FS employees
EmployeesA New Approach To Employee Retention — Part 1
October 8, 2015
Editor’s: This is part 1 of a two-part series on employee retention by Mark Waschek of Ag1Source, the largest agricultural Read More
EmployeesSyngenta First Agriculture Company To Receive Fair Labor Association Accreditation
October 8, 2015
Syngenta has announced that it has become the first agriculture company to receive accreditation from the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100United Cooperative Acquires Four ADM Wisconsin Facilities
November 12, 2015
United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, WI, recently acquired four grain and agronomy locations from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Car Makes NASCAR Xfinity Series
October 29, 2015
BRANDT will join JR Motorsports with driver, Justin Allgaier, for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity (NXS) Series season. Allgaier will pilot Read More
CHS Building exterior
CropLife 100CHS Leaders Help Shape Succession Report
October 22, 2015
Succession planning was listed as a main concern of cooperative leaders at this summer’s 15 regional CHS owner town hall Read More
Fall Harvest
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases Eight Regional Seed Companies
October 12, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has announced the purchase of eight regional seed companies to advance its seed business. Pinnacle has acquired: Read More
MRM Agricultural Service
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires CropLife 100 Ag Retailer
October 8, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC has successfully acquired the Missouri-based agronomy business of MRM Agricultural Service, LLC and its affiliates (MRM). Operating Read More
Eric Jenks, Wilbur-Ellis
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Opens Dry Fertilizer Storage And Blending Facility In Washington
October 8, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co., ranked No. 4 on the CropLife 100, has constructed and opened a 22,000-ton dry fertilizer storage and blending Read More
Latest News
HerbicidesBREAKING: EPA Pulls Registration On Dow’s Enlist …
November 25, 2015
EPA on Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans, Read More
FertilizerYara Tampa Ammonia Terminal Garners ResponsibleAg Honor…
November 25, 2015
Yara has received its first ResponsibleAg Certification for its Tampa, FL, Ammonia terminal location. This achievement demonstrates Yara’s commitment to Read More
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More
Fall Harvest
Seed/BiotechArysta Launches New Seed Protectant
November 19, 2015
As spring wheat growers begin planning for a strong start to their season, Arysta LifeScience North America announces RANCONA V Read More
Crop InputsInocucor Receives U.S. Patent For Microbials
November 19, 2015
Inocucor Technologies Inc., the Montreal-based agriculture biotech company, was issued patent No. 9,175,258 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect Read More
ManagementSyngenta Rumors and ARA 2015 Preview
November 19, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj looks at the latest rumors involving Syngenta selling its crop protection business and talks about events Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
High Plains Aquifer
StewardshipStudy: High Plains Aquifer Overall Usage In Decline
November 18, 2015
A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge Read More
Golden Harvest Corn healthy leaves
FungicidesArysta Launches New Corn And Soybean Fungicide
November 17, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America has recently launched ZOLERA FX Fungicide. The highly systemic, powerful fungicide delivers broad-spectrum disease control with Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsBioAg Alliance: Microbials Targeted For 250-500 million…
November 17, 2015
Monsanto and Novozymes have announced a new 2025 acreage target that will guide the companies’ microbials business for the next Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Still Being Eyed For China Takeover
November 16, 2015
China National Chemical Corp. approached sovereign wealth funds including China Investment Corp. to help pay for a potential acquisition of Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojCooperative Consolidation Continues
November 16, 2015
As I put this enewsletter column together, we’ve just put the finishing touches on our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 report. Read More