Rate Your Pay

Later this year, CropLife will conduct its first-ever ag retailer compensation survey. But first, we wanted to talk to a few agriculture placement specialists to get an initial lay of the land. The scenery is, in fact, especially interesting this season in light of the economic challenges facing not only dealers but also the entire country.

Six months ago, search firms were working with a large number of ag companies seeking employees — and demand was not being met. But at presstime, the tables had turned dramatically. As growers hold off on input purchases, so have employers been waiting on hiring. “The pre-pay market is way, way off this year, down around 40%, and some more than that,” says Gary Weilbaker, recruiter, eastern Corn Belt with Career Solutions Co. “A lot of companies are on hold mode. They’re not really cutting positions, but I’ve not heard of any adding or back-filling jobs that have become available. Or, they may have initially made plans to add head count, but they’re not doing it.”

So the pool of ag job seekers has swelled, and perhaps in an unexpected way. Weilbaker says many of these applicants worked in agriculture earlier in their careers, then left to go into manufacturing. They’ve lost those jobs or are looking to get back into agriculture.

In fact, “there’s also a large pool of non-agricultural professionals trying to get in,” says Weilbaker. “That’s a little unusual. Normally, people not involved with ag don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And he says it’s tough for these workers to break into our industry without a farm background or ag degree.

About The Money

Melinda Mullenix, human resource services manager with AgCareers.com, emphasizes that top talent will always be highly desired, and managers are faced with the challenge of meeting the demands of a more experienced job seeker pool — plus a talented group of current employees. She notes current staff hold valuable job knowledge or even a “trade secret,” plus the investment of time and money wrapped up in their training and development.

Several factors are key in keeping good employees, not the least of which is fair pay (see chart). Unfortunately for retailers, compensation levels in 2007 and 2008 appreciated a lot. “We were on a real steep climb,” explains Weilbaker. That created challenges for established agribusinesses who had to pay talented new hires more than what current employees were earning — to the tune of $5,000 to $10,000 more. “It upset the whole compensation structure of the company, and there’s had to be some readjusting companywide,” he says. The situation has flattened out just recently, he says.

When managers do get to talking about compensation, they reveal a wide variation in what employees are paid. Weilbaker is amazed how often salaries don’t correlate to the value a staff member brings to a company. “There are guys that are way, way underpaid — and some that are way, way overpaid,” he says.

Mullenix adds that dealers need to be creative if they don’t have the money to pay more competitively. She has heard of companies offering retention bonuses, years of service awards, employee referral programs, additional paid time off incentives, and gym membership reimbursements.

Bring On The Benefits

What do benefit packages look like these days? Here’s a rundown.

Health coverage. Group plans are the norm, with a monthly premium of $150 for an individual and $300 for a family. Annual deductible for one person would be $500; $1,000 for a family. Above-normal packages will lower the deductible to $250 for the individual and $500 for families — with no monthly out-of-pocket premium for one person and $150 for a family. While many Americans find themselves without health insurance, Weilbaker says 95% of the companies he works with offer coverage.

As a general rule, Mullenix would say that competitive employers pay between 60% to 75% of health premiums; higher than this figure would be “above scale.”

Vacation. Two weeks is standard, though for more experienced employees, say 30-plus years old, three weeks is common.

Retirement plans. Companies usually offer 401K plans, with the employer typically matching dollar for dollar 3% of an employee’s contribution. In higher-end benefit packages, employers match 4% to 5% or more.

Profit sharing. More companies are creating profit-sharing pools. The plans encourage longevity with a firm, since any money employees have invested for them returns to the pool if they leave before the five-year mark. These programs are offered in addition to 401K plans.

Incentive pay. Here, companies reward employees based on the value their sales bring to the company. The reward goes beyond a straight commission percentage. “It’s not only the volume of product you’re selling, but at what price you’re selling it and what is the gross or net margin of that product or service to the company,” explains Weilbaker. “If somebody is selling a higher value or higher margin product, they get paid more than someone selling a lower profit product.”

“We have heard from employers that have delivered bonuses and not base pay, or merit, increases,” Mullenix says. “This is one way to reward strong performers without increasing your salary budget for the time being.”

Commissions. In AgCareer.com’s survey, Mullenix says that approximately 41% of the 46 agribusinesses polled in their survey paid commissions. Solid and top performers can be rewarded with anywhere from 5% to 25% of their base pay.

Company vehicles. For sales people on up, company vehicles — or at least car allowances — are provided. Mobile phone plans are also offered.

Education reimbursement. This benefit is particularly in demand by “our Millennial generation of employees,” notes Mullenix. It’s not often offered, but can have a significant impact on an employee’s job satisfaction. The message is that the employer is investing and building value into an employee’s career, says Weilbaker.

In fact, workers’ ages play a role in the benefits they want most. Generally, employees under 30 years old look for compensation, perks, and job titles. In the 30- to 40-year-old age range, compensation, job location, and job stability are important. For employees in their 40s and above, health insurance, 401K plans, vacation time, company stability, and work load are valued. At this age, preferences often get more involved because workers have children, says Weilbaker.

“Job seekers and employees alike are looking for the reinforced message from your organization that their job will be secure and your organization is stable,” emphasizes Mullenix.

Raves On Reviews

Beyond benefits, employers can offer other much-appreciated conditions. At the top of the list is an annual review, says Weilbaker, who finds it amazing how many dealers don’t provide this kind of structured feedback. “No review is more the norm in the retail fertilizer business,” he says. He is convinced employees want to know what is expected of them on a daily basis, and much of the time that information isn’t given out. “People wind up running around not sure what managers want. Any time there’s a clear understanding of what’s expected, it benefits everybody,” he says.

He suggests employers conduct a general review with individual staff once a year, then check in at least every six months — or even better, quarterly — to revisit specific issues and measurable job performance components. And to really be effective, this kind of program needs to be continuous, says Weilbaker. “It can’t be a one-time deal.” See “Annual Review Basics” for a few tips on conducting reviews.

When approaching compensation reviews, Mullenix says employers need to be prepared with market data. “They need to understand their local and regional market in particular in the ag retail sector in order to continue to attract and retain employees,” she believes.

And agriculture may well be a good field for retaining employees these days. “Agriculture is an area of the economy that is still holding up pretty well,” says Weilbaker. “As investors look at the ag market, they like the idea of something being created, that you’re producing something.” He also notes that the government’s ethanol mandate will help support commodity prices. Then, too, the health of an industry can be gauged by the merger and acquisition activity within. “There’s some big deals going on now, especially in the fertilizer segment. That’s typically done in an industry where the future looks bright,” he concludes.

Leave a Reply

Employees Stories

Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Training Scholarships
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
EmployeesASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour: 10 Things We Learned
May 10, 2016
In the Midwestern ag retail world, the last week of April and the first two weeks of May are akin Read More
Purdue Online Course Screenshot
EmployeesPurdue Center Offers Online Course For Ag Sales Professionals
March 16, 2016
A new online course from Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business will help sales managers and advanced salespeople Read More
Agronomist and farmer on iPad inspecting weeds
EmployeesLand O’Lakes: Ag Industry Failing To Attract Next Generation
March 15, 2016
The world’s demand for food will surge by 2050, with a projected 10 billion people requiring a 70% increase in Read More
Trending Articles
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
Heritage Cooperative
CropLife 100Heritage, Agland Co-op Explore Mutual Merger Interest
June 30, 2016
According to a report in The Ohio Country Journal, Heritage Cooperative and Agland Co-op have entered into negotiations to consider Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Crop InputsDow Launching New Soybean Burndown Herbicide
June 30, 2016
With the 2016 growing season nearing the halfway mark, many growers are scouting soybean fields to find unwelcome marestail plants Read More
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More