You wouldn’t buy feeders, fans or genetics without shopping around to determine a fair value. So, why would you expect that developing a compensation package is any

Certainly employees shop around to determine what kind of value your package offers them.

To know if your compensation package is fair, equitable and competitive with the market, you have to do some research, says Bob Milligan, an agricultural-based consultant in Madison, Wis. That’s where a compensation survey can help.

The survey is a tool; it can help you determine whether you offer enough to entice and retain top employees. The survey can be formal or informal—whatever works best for you. 

Here are 10 steps to conduct your own compensation survey.

1. Be specific in determining the job that you need to fill. Depending on the job, you may have to broaden your recruitment efforts.

For example, you may be able to recruit and train a maintenance director from the immediate area. But to hire a herdsman or a staff veterinarian, you may need to look regionally or even nationally. The recruitment area will influence whether your compensation package is competitive.

2. Network. Talk to members of your peer group or other business men and women that you know, says Gary Maas, of AgriCareers in Massena, Iowa. Talk to fellow producers at national meetings or conferences. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone you sit next to at the airport who’s not in agriculture. It can help you gain regional employment perspectives.

3. Make phone calls. If there’s a Saturn assembly plant or an distribution center within an hour’s drive of your operation, you have competition for qualified labor, says Sarah Fogleman, Kansas State University Extension human resources specialist. Contact the human resources departments of those companies, and speak to the person in charge of hiring. Explain your objective. Ask about types of jobs the company offers, as well as the starting salaries. You may find some of this information on the company’s Web site.

While many companies will share this information, some small companies may be reluctant. Don’t worry if this happens. You don’t need information from every company in your area, you simply need enough to get a perspective of the employment climate.  

4. Read the want ads. Scan this section in your local newspaper as well as from larger more regional papers in your area, says Maas. Many ads will list starting salaries and the skills required.

For example, if the Saturn plant is looking for a forklift operator, that person would have a comparable skill-set to a truck or tractor driver. You won’t find many ads specifying farrowing-room workers, so look for an ad that states: “Looking for the right person. Will train.” These are ads for entry-level positions. Make note of the salaries offered.

5. Consult industry surveys. While salary surveys in agriculture are limited, there are a few that offer ideas on salary baselines. Check AgriCareers at You also can find information on the topic at Some land-grant universities occasionally conduct regional salary and benefit surveys. 

6. Ask job applicants. Include a question about an individual’s current salary on your job application form. 

7. Ask area experts. Tap into your management team’s expertise. That includes your veterinarian, lender and area Extension specialists who work with other producers. Ask them what the going rate is for various job positions.

8. Use exit interviews. Conduct an exit interview whenever an employee resigns. Ask why he or she is leaving. Ask specifically whether more money and/or better benefits were deciding factors. 

9. Use the Web. At the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, you can find wage breakdowns by region, state, county or by job title. It even has a section on jobs in agriculture. However, don’t just focus on wages, review the trends. Is pay in an area rising or declining; by how much? The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts surveys each quarter. All of this information is available at:

10. Track unemployment in your area. Unemployment rates have an inverse relationship to the wages paid in an area. By determining unemployment patterns you can determine whether your compensation package needs revision.

For example, in a tight labor market, you may need to increase your starting wage or to offer a stronger health package or vacation options to attract job applicants who can afford to be more selective.

Competition is the heart blood of business whether you’re talking about trying to achieve higher production levels, place more hogs into your packer’s buying matrix or hiring the best employees. 

Full Time or Part Time?
Need to fill a job within your pork production unit?  The natural tendency is to automatically think in terms of a full-time position.

However, offering part-time positions could make you the employer of choice. That’s especially true if part-time jobs are limited in your area, says Bob Milligan, Madison, Wis. That is often the case in predominantly rural areas.

Ultimately, you may find more people looking for part-time work than full-time. It could open up your hiring choices, and produce more satisfied workers. You may need to hire more individuals, but in the end, the man-hours would be a wash.