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 yourr 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, including training. 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.

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.

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.

  • Onboarding Program Flyer
  • Onboarding Overview. Employee Onboarding: Safe, Productive, and Engaged From Day One! Richard Stup, Ph.D.
  • Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. The Society for Human Resource Management. According to recent data, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population experiences some type of career transition each year. Unfortunately, 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. An important way leaders can combat these challenges is to implement a robust employee onboarding program. Onboarding helps new hires adjust to the social and performance aspects of their jobs so they can quickly become productive, contributing members of the organization. This report provides tools you need to create an effective onboarding process in your company.
  • Guide for Conducting Employee Onboarding. Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development. Make a good impression and connect employees with the team so they stick around for a long time, because that’s good business.
  • Training Techniques: Plan, Conduct, Evaluate Training. Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development. Build the necessary skills to make your trainings more impactful.

New Employee Onboarding Templates

New employee onboarding is an overall business process to bring new employees into the farm business, complete necessary paperwork, equip them with safety and performance knowledge and skills, and make them feel connected to a worthwhile team. Onboarding can increase employee safety, performance and retention. It should focus on the new employee as a person not just as a worker, and not just on the business. Your goal is employees who are Safe, Productive, and Engaged…from Day 1! Cornell Ag Workforce Development created the “Onboarding Template” to help you develop a complete program quickly. This guide gives instructions and tips for using the template, and other resources, to build your farm’s onboarding program.

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are critical to any quality system. 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.

When a new employee begins work on a farm, they likely have many questions. What do the leg band colors mean? How do I switch the bulk tanks? How much soap do I use to wash bottles? Rather than tracking down a manager and asking these seemingly simple questions, a new employee may make assumptions or be hesitant in their work.  Preparing these step-by-step instructions and posting them in known locations allows for a training system that develops self-sufficient and proactive employees.

To be fully utilized, SOPs must be two things. First, they need to be written in a way that is easily understood. They should be clear and to the point. SOPs also may need to be translated. It is a good idea for SOPs to include pictures of each step of the procedure followed by a short caption describing the work being done. Second, SOPs should be placed in an accessible location. For a group of procedures, such as health protocols, a binder of documents in the herd office may be appropriate. Documents that should be readily available such as milking procedure, wash station protocol, and pasteurizer instructions should be hung up on a wall in plain view. All SOP documents should be laminated.

The first step in developing a set of SOPs is to identify what procedures would benefit the most from these documents. Where is there protocol drift? Lack of consistency among employees? Positions that turn over most often is a likely place to start. Keeping in mind that SOPs describe the tasks identified in job descriptions. Start with basic procedures. Take photos of each step. Limit each procedure document to a page or two and be clear but concise. Utilize consultants and veterinarians to help develop SOPs. Once a set of SOPs has been created, let employees know they are there and that they should be followed. Only then can SOPs be used as a tool in evaluating employee performance.

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 that 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.  While NYCAMH is set up to help farms meet the OSHA requirement for annual safety training, NYCAMH can’t possibly provide safety training for all new dairy employees in NY on or before their first day of work.

The good news is that there are materials to help you provide some basic safety training before a new employee begins working, or at any time during their employment.  The NYCAMH website hosts a great video series titled Considering Human and Animal Safety.

These videos are in both English and Spanish, and cover a variety of topics for 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.

View the videos first to help you decide which videos are appropriate for the different positions on your farm.  When you click on the YouTube link, you’ll see a brief description under the video that explains exactly what is covered.  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?  An idea that some farms are trying out is using Google Classroom to post links to all of the training resources that they are using to onboard new employees.  That can 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 create after viewing the videos and/or materials.  All you need to set this up is a Gmail account.

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

NYCAMH also has a bilingual safety training roster that you can print.  The video series Considering Human & Animal Safety is a great resource for training dairy employees. NYCAMH has also developed a new bilingual “Fotonovela” comic book for Dairy Worker Safety Training.

Additional resources include:

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