AgriStaffUSA serves dairy farm labor needs

Employee preferences a key to success

Ray Mueller
Nearly three years into its business history, AgriStaffUSA has more than 300 clients and nearly 1,000 entities on its contact list for recruiting, hiring, and managing dairy farm employees – a great majority of whom are Hispanics.

KIMBERLY – Nearly three years into its business history, AgriStaffUSA has more than 300 clients and nearly 1,000 entities on its contact list for recruiting, hiring, and managing dairy farm employees – a great majority of whom are Hispanics.
In what he indicated was his first PowerPoint experience, co-founder and placement specialist Frankie Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, described the business in a presentation at the semi-annual farm management update sponsored by Extension Service offices in Wisconsin's east central counties. AgriStaff started with an office in Kiel before recently adding a satellite site in Appleton.
As the business evolved, Rodriguez and co-founder Becky Schmid started to recruit potential employees through contacts with 15 pastors whose church membership included many Hispanics. They also monitored Spanish language publications, contacted institutions with Hispanic clients, and visited Texas, New York, and Puerto Rico.

Placement procedures

AgriStaff has handled 30 to 35 placements during recent months, Rodriguez indicated. He said about 85 percent of them are Hispanics, about two-thirds of them from Mexico with most of the others from Nicaragua and Honduras.
Even before the recent devastating hurricane, Agri-Staff had begun to recruit in Puerto Rico. Rodriguez noted that residents of Puerto Rico are United States citizens and that about 80 percent of them speak English.
Before completing a placement, AgriStaff verifies that the person is legally qualified to work in Wisconsin, Rodriguez pointed out. Depending on the situation, it usually takes from 24 hours to two weeks to fill a request by a client for an employee, he stated.

Employee background

Of the employee recruits, Rodriguez said about 80 percent have previous farm experience. He noted that employees of current dairy farm clients are “off limits” as candidates in requests by other farmers. Since President Donald Trump's statements about persons covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) rule, Rodriguez was aware of 68 persons covered by that provision who had left the country voluntarily as of late September.
Even among those who have been employed in the United States for 20 to 25 years, Rodriguez notices a tendency to return to the home country. In many cases, the money earned has been used to purchase property or start a business, he said.
When a placement is completed, AgriStaff's basic fee to the client is $100 per week for up to 12 weeks, which it indicates is the lowest direct-rate in Wisconsin. Billings are made monthly. Farmers account for about 90 percent of AgriStaff's clients but placements are also available for food processors, manufacturers, cleaners, and other industries.
The actions of some employees cause them to be put on a blacklist, Rodriguez acknowledged. But those who could be described as “unknowns” will be given a chance, he emphasized.

Employee preferences

Rodriguez has observed that most Hispanic employees want to work many hours per week during their first three to four years on the job. After that, they prefer eight hour working days but do not like split shifts, which creates hiring problems for dairy operations in the middle size category, he remarked.
What's most important to employees is pay, following by housing and the working schedule, Rodriguez reported. He said employees will move to a new employer for as little as 25 cents in hourly pay. Benefits and the working environment are less important, he added.
In northeast Wisconsin, the average hourly starting pay for farm employees is $11 per hour but a few dairy farms are offering $12 to $13, Rodriguez said. Having a positive farm image – a good reputation with current employees and being a good manager – is very helpful, he explained.

AgriStaff advice

To increase the odds of a successful placement, Rodriguez urges clients to provide three to five days of training for new employees in order to reduce the potential for confusion, mistakes, and disagreements. Complete the required employee paperwork, as well as obtaining emergency contact information and a second phone number, right away, he added.
As necessary, obtain a third party outside translator, monitor the temptation to engage in shortcuts, and realize that Hispanics are reluctant to share problems, choosing to leave instead, Rodriguez advised. On that point, he stressed that it is crucial to explain “why” it is important or necessary to carry out tasks in certain ways.
Strive to know employees by name, to greet or talk to them often, to understand their culture, and to always show respect, Rodriguez continued. He cited recent surveys of nearly 1,000 Hispanic farm employees in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa which identified their major concerns - being targeted, discriminated against, and deported.
The same survey revealed that only 28 percent of them believe they enjoy “full support” from the dairy industry, Rodriguez noted. Reasons cited for quitting a job are led by abuse at work, followed by low pay and actions of the owner or manager, he noted.
Being able to provide housing gives employers “an edge,” Rodriguez stated. For retaining employees, he mentioned having a safe and clean environment with properly operating equipment, offering bonuses for meeting certain goals such as milk quality, avoiding “gray situations” on compensation, and awarding a gift card for exceptional performance.
To contact AgriStaff, call (920) 522-2415 (cell) or (920) 286-6106 (office) or check the website. The e-mail addresses are and