Farmers and ranchers often have a problem managing their employees.

For one thing, we don't have many personnel training programs available for agriculture. Most of what we learn is from our parents and grandparents. And, unfortunately, our elders often viewed employees as second-class citizens. Their thought was, If the employees were good, they'd be running their own operations.

However, we need to develop personnel management skills if we are going to be successful operators in the future.

Here are some of the tips I've gleaned from my most successful dairy clients:

1. Hire quality help. Be sure that you hire the right person for the right job. This may mean  developing a test that demonstrates the skills needed to perform the job properly.

2. Pay the employees a fair wage and provide fair benefits. A 1997 salary survey conducted by Ag Executive, a monthly agriculture financial newsletter that I produce, showed a range of wages for dairy employees and managers between $18,610 and $58,700. Average salary for non-management was $21,880, while management-level employees averaged $34,465. An increasing number of employers provide health benefits, housing and retirement plans. Remember, you get what you pay for when it comes to employees.

3. Treat the employees with members of your family. Allow the employees' children to visit and participate in non-hazardous activities. Let their children "borrow" your animals for 4-H projects. Invite the families to farm activities, and remember their birthdays and anniversaries. Make them feel like they are important to your farm and your success, because they are.

4. Budget money for your employees' continuing education. An educated employee is a good employee. This doesn't  mean you send them to management-level training courses if they aren't managers. Look for ways they can benefit from attending the various meetings sponsored by industry and the extension service.

5. Evaluate your employees' performance at least once a year. Give them written feedback on their performance and how they can improve.

6. Consider setting up incentive plans to improve production. Incentive plans don't need to be complex. They just need to be simple enough that the employee can calculate his bonus independently without waiting for his employer to do the calculations. The more often you pay bonuses, the better an incentive plan works. Avoid plans that work off of net income. Sure, you can afford to pay more when you are making more money, but the employee often suspects that management controls net income. Look at calf death rate, somatic cell count, milk production, and other factors based on the employee's specific job description. And, describe the incentive plan in a company handbook.

7. Take the time to be a better personnel manager.  Excellent resources can be found in some of the dairy short courses offered by land-grant institutions. Also, you may want to buy a copy of Labor Management in Agriculture: Cultivating Personnel Productivity (available from Ag Executive, P.O. Box 180, Bushnell, Ill., for $21, plus $3.50 shipping and handling. Illinois residents must add $1.31 sales tax.) Another excellent resource is a publication called Employee Incentive Pay in Dairies. This is also available from Ag Executive for $12, plus $ 3.50 shipping and handling. (Illinois residents add 75 cents sales tax.) Both books were written by Gregory Billikopf at the University of California.

You control the success of your employees and your operation. Take time today to develop the personnel skills you'll need to be a good manager in the 21st century!

Darrell Dunteman, AAC, is an Accredited Agricultural Consultant and accountant with offices in Bushnell, Ill.