Onboarding Farm Employees

Safe, Productive and Engaged from Day One

Use Employee Onboarding to achieve:

  1. COMPLIANCE. Basic compliance with regulations and policies.
  2. CLARITY. Training on safety, work procedures, and expectations.
  3. CULTURE. Communicate your farm’s procedures, values, traditions and norms.
  4. CONNECTION. Help employees forge relationships at work and find their place to engage and thrive.

The first days and weeks on the job set the course for a new farm employee. The Onboarding Project, funded by The New York Farm Viability Institute, focuses on navigating employment requirements and improving human resource management practices. 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. Over the next year, the Ag Workforce Development Team will partner with 25 farms in a three-session Zoom series to develop onboarding materials, trainings and methods.

The Society for Human Resource Management has also developed a valuable resource  Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. More than 25 percent of the U.S. population experiences some type of career transition each year but many transitions are not successful. Half of all hourly workers leave new jobs in the first four months, and half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months. Clearly, there is room for improvement. A robust employee onboarding program helps new hires adjust to the social and performance aspects of their jobs so they quickly become productive, contributing members of the organization.

New Employee Onboarding Templates

Cornell Ag Workforce Development created the “Onboarding Template” to help you develop a comprehensive onboarding program quickly. This guide provides instructions and tips on how to use the template and offers additional resources to build your farm’s onboarding program.

FARM Worker Safety & Human Resources also offers a number of templates, including those for Job Descriptions, Employee Contact Information, Performance Reviews, and many other areas. The Human Resource Templates are particularly valuable as English and Spanish versions are provided.

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are critical to any quality system and an important component of onboarding. These policy and procedure documents lay out the regularly recurring activities performed within a business. SOPs provide organization, clarity, and consistency to a task and play a large role in setting employees up for success in their work. Visit the Performance Management page to access the SOP writing guide, example SOPs, and a SOP template.

Job Descriptions

The first step in great leadership is communicating expectations clearly. Job descriptions are a powerful tool to help employees understand exactly what they are supposed to be doing at work. Although communicating expectations may seem obvious, it’s actually difficult to do, but job descriptions can help tremendously. Visit the Job Descriptions page to access tools and guides on writing successful job descriptions.


New employees need to receive safety training before they face exposure to risks in the workplace.  That means it’s not sufficient to hold one safety training per year for all employees on the farm (unless you have not hired any new employees that year).  Many farms rely on NYCAMH (New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health) to conduct safety training. NYCAMH also offers a number of support materials to help you provide basic safety training before a new employee begins working, or at any time during their employment.

Included on the NYCAMH website is the video series  Considering Human and Animal Safety. This series is available in English and Spanish and covers a variety of  jobs around the farm. Part one includes: Outside Animal Care, Milking Barn Safety, and Feeding and Other Safety Issues (20 minutes total). Part two includes: General & Outside Worker Safety, Milker & Calf Caretaker Safety, and Feeder Safety (35 minutes total). You’ll notice that the farms in the videos look different than ours- that’s because the videos were created by the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS).  Although you’ll see people working with cows in dry lots, the principles taught in the videos apply just as well to our freestall barns. Each video includes a brief description of what is covered, to help prioritize which are most relevant to your farm. For example, “Feeding and Other Safety Issues (Dairy Safety Training Part I, Section 3),” discusses working with PTOs, tractors, loaders, mixers, and other large machinery, as well as using ATVs and working around manure lagoons.  If you’re tight on time, you could make a note to skip the section on ATVs if that’s not relevant for your farm, or for that particular employee.

Are you using other training videos as well?  Some farms are using Google Classroom to post links to all of the training resources that they use to onboard new employees. This may include video links, standard operating procedures, maps, and other documents that are important for employees to view. You can use Google Forms to create short quizzes for employees to complete after viewing the videos and/or materials. All you need to set this up is a free Gmail account.

As always, remember to document any training that you give.

Additional resources include:

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