Published Nov 28, 2013

Labor4Learning Program helps experienced farm go to the next level as a farm employer

By Luke Gran

At Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), we hear from many of our members looking to hire their first farm employee, like the Cory Family Farm of Elkhart, Iowa. They applied last year to be part of the inaugural class of “PFI Trainers” – 10 farms who offered opportunities for paid on-the-job training in farming. Under the banner of Labor4Learning Program, the goal of which is to connect experienced farmers with high quality, motivated farm employees and connect beginning farmers with paid, on-the job training on successful farms.

Experienced farmers, if selected by a committee of PFI farmers as PFI Trainers, may earn up to $200 per month (maximum $1,000 per year) from Practical Farmers to share the business and financial details a beginning farmer needs to know to be successful managing his/her own farm.

Beginning farmers, who apply and get hired by a PFI Trainer, get paid, on-the-job training with experienced farmers. Additional benefits include: 1) a paid day off to attend a PFI event during the term of employment, 2) a discount to the Practical Farmers of Iowa 2015 Annual Conference (a $100 value), 3) networking with other beginners and experienced farmers.

corys“The timing all came together with PFI offering this program and our business growing, we applied last fall and thought maybe this would be helpful to us,” remembers Mary Cory. Selected in January 2013, the Cory’s earned $1,000 over the year from Practical Farmers to provide detailed business and farming training to their PFI Trainee, Rory Van Wyk of Ankeny, Iowa. He worked and learned part-time on the farm from February through December.

The caliber of the applicants the Cory’s received for their job announcement was high, but when they selected Rory what they got was exceptional. “He has our best interests in mind, he is always trying to think of a better way to get the job done while still doing high quality work,” says Mary. Even beginning in the cold, difficult conditions of February, Rory, who is a firefighter, rose to the challenge. “In the beginning he was occasionally working on his own off a list of tasks and he just kept going. He didn’t need us to hold his hand.”

Rory Van WykTheir PFI Trainee characterized working for the Cory’s as “a wonderful experience.” In addition to earning a wage while learning on the farm, Rory was able to attend three PFI field days during the summer (also with pay). “Why aren’t more organizations doing what PFI is doing here?” he asks. “The chance to get hands-on experience and mentoring has been a tremendous blessing as my family and I seek an opportunity to begin farming.” Rory recently applied and was accepted in the Class of 2015 Savings Incentive Program in part due to his compelling farm story and diverse experiences he has sought out while learning to farm.

As PFI Trainers in the Labor4Learning Program, the Cory’s gained a valuable benefit to their business and life. As many livestock farmers can attest, the challenge of not having knowledgeable farming neighbors can be immense in large parts of the state as farms have become larger and more specialized. Mary testifies to the level of trust and competency they have in Rory, “When we have had to be gone for a day or two, Rory has been completely in charge of the farm.”

Relying only on custom work and casual hired help by the day in previous farming seasons, the Cory’s were going out on a limb with hiring an employee for the first time. “Without Practical Farmers of Iowa offering the Labor4Learning Program, I don’t know that we would have taken that leap.”

Will they be Trainers again in 2014? “We aren’t ready to take on more Trainees yet, because its been so successful with Rory,” says Mary. The Corys are continuing to work with this PFI Trainee they hired in February 2013 and are looking for ways to collaborate further in the future.

If you are an experienced farmer, looking to take the next step in employee management or want to share your farming knowledge, apply by December 9, 2013 to be a PFI Trainer in 2014. Full application details are available at: Click “Download PDF application” link in the orange box on the right of the screen. Or follow this direct link to download an application:

Are you hesitant to hire a farm employee due to questions about legal requirements? Check out the PFI Farm Employment FAQ about the rights and responsibilities for Iowa farm workers and farm employers.

Read more about the Cory Family Farm, PFI members featured in this blog at:

Funding for the Labor4Learning Program comes from Practical Farmers of Iowa’s strategic reserves.