Onboarding dairy farm employees 2020

Cornell University - Agricultural Workforce Development

“Safe, Productive and Engaged from Day One”

Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development is seeking farmers to participate in the second year of an onboarding project funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Employee onboarding is a management process to bring new employees into the farm business, complete necessary paperwork, equip them with safety and performance knowledge and skills, and help them feel connected to and engaged with a worthwhile team.

Identified as a priority by New York’s Ag Workforce Development Council, the first year of the project “Safe, Productive and Engaged from Day One” worked with 25 farmers to develop tools, trainings and templates to navigate employment requirements and improve human resource management practices. Projects included development of employee handbooks, SOP’s, training videos, new hire forms, job descriptions, farm safety plans, checklists, organizational charts, mission statements, written policies, and more.

“A successful onboarding process begins with a well-planned orientation, training and compliance, and leads to improvements that benefit both the manager and employees throughout the relationship,” said Dr. Richard Stup, Cornell Agricultural Workforce Specialist.

Effective onboarding helps retain valuable employees. The first days and weeks on the job set the course for a new farm employee. Given the tight labor market, a successful onboarding program can be an essential tool to help reduce employee turnover, increase employee safety and productivity, and contribute to a farm’s success. Recent research on large dairy farms indicates annual employee turnover rates range from 20 to 80 percent.

If an employee has a positive onboarding experience, their likelihood of staying at the place of employment for more than three years is about 69 percent, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. In addition to less turnover, employees are approximately 50 percent more productive and 54 percent more engaged.

Conversely, if an employee is poorly onboarded, this sets employees up for failure. The first impression can be the make or break of whether that employee returns tomorrow or leaves as soon as they can find another job. The onboarding process sets the tone for inclusion as a valued new farm team member, and should focus on the new employee as a person, not just as a worker, and not just on the business.

Agriculture Workforce Development’s “Onboarding Template” helps farmers quickly develop a complete onboarding program with orientation and training that:

  • Ensures compliance with basic regulations and policies.
  • Provides clarification on work procedures and expectations, and offers safety training.
  • Establishes a workplace culture based on values, philosophies and traditions.
  • Creates connected relationships at work that allow employees to engage and thrive.

An effective onboarding program:

  1. Establishes a farm culture that is safe, productive and engaging.
  2. Sets clear, upfront job expectations that employees can fully understand.
  3. Provides immediate safety training to avoid injuries.
  4. Promotes compliance with all employment regulations.
  5. Communicates important farm policies and procedures, especially those that may differ from previous employers.
  6. Overcomes language barriers so that everyone can understand each other.
  7. Increases employee commitment and reduce turnover.
  8. Provides accessible and realistic support for farm onboarding, even when labor and time are in short supply.



Over the next year, the Ag Workforce Development Team will partner with an additional 25 farms to develop onboarding materials, trainings and methods. Over a three-session Zoom series, participating farmers will gain an understanding of and complete an onboarding template, and be supported by Dr. Richard Stup, Cornell Ag Workforce Specialist, Extension educators, or industry consultants, to implement onboarding materials, trainings and methods. The tools developed, including templates, training documentation, resources for employee records, worksheets, and videos, will be shared with other farms.

If your farm is looking for a way to improve employee retention and increase overall productivity of employees, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator for more information and a flyer about this exciting program or visit agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu.

Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development’s mission is to help farms and agribusinesses build committed and effective teams who will carry out the important work of feeding the world. We believe that agricultural work can, and should be, engaging and rewarding for everyone involved. Managers can build committed teams by applying the best human resource management practices for the agricultural setting.


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