Agricultural Labor Management

Please note that the PDF version of these prefatory materials as well as each chapter in the book are the most up-to-date. If you go to the book link above, you may download all the chapters in PDF format at one time, or purchase the book if you prefer to have a hard copy. Or you can look up just this section under the "latest PDF version" link.

About the Author

Gregorio Billikopf Encina was born and raised in Chile’s Central Valley. His interest in agriculture and farm labor issues has been developing since his youth, part of which was spent in his family’s vineyard in San Javier. Billikopf obtained a BS in plant science with emphasis in production agriculture at the University of California, Davis, and a MA in labor management from California State University, Stanislaus. Before coming to the University of California Agricultural Extension in 1981, he worked in migrant education and farm worker training programs.

Billikopf's agricultural extension research and teaching efforts have focused on such topics as employee selection, compensation, performance appraisal, discipline and termination, supervision, interpersonal relations, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills. Gregorio has been a frequent national and international speaker in the field, and has had the opportunity to give presentations in Russia, Canada, México, Uganda, and Chile. He is also the manager of the international agricultural human resource electronic forum, AG-HRnet, and the electronic newsletter People in Ag.

Gregorio and Linda Billikopf have four children, and make their home in Modesto, California, at the foot of Yosemite National Park. Gregorio has been a dressage rider & instructor (equestrian sports), an amateur radio operator, and a youth soccer referee. More recently, his great love for the Scriptures has occupied much of his free time.


Many farmers, farm managers, farm labor contractors and farm workers have contributed to this work by participating in research efforts--as well as in the photographs. I am particularly thankful to those who were willing to pioneer new organizational interventions and concepts, and share the difficulties and challenges as well as successes they have encountered along the way.

I feel a need to acknowledge those who helped with the first edition, the fruits of which have carried over to this one. Foremost is Howard R. Rosenberg, mentor and friend, who devoted endless hours to earlier drafts. Subsections of chapters 4, 7, 10, and 16, are based on trade journal articles we co-authored. I thank Howard for his support and encouragement. Linda Marsing Billikopf, my wife, did much to improve the overall logic of the presentation within chapters.

The second edition was prepared with the able editorial help of Marcia Kreith and Gary Beall of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. Special thanks go to all those who reviewed the book or provided feedback along the way. I am grateful to colleagues who donated photos. Jack Kelly Clark, from UC DANR Communication Services, and I went out on several photo shoots together. Jack took many of the photos and gave me the confidence to begin to take my own. My daughter Cristina helped match photographs with the pull-out quotes. Will Suckow, also of DANR Communications, answered innumerable questions about page layout, formatting, computerized photo quality and drawings. I am intensely indebted to Elizabeth Resendez who, with superior skill, proofread the manuscript almost as many times as I revised it, helped me keep track of the multiple facets of the project, and updated the Web version of the book.

The author takes responsibility for the opinions expressed as well as any errors that may remain. I am especially appreciative to the University of California Agricultural Extension for the opportunity I have had to dedicate my work efforts to labor management in agriculture and the writing of this book.


Research shows worker output is not a constant. As a farmer or labor contractor you can play an important role in shaping work outcomes. My intention with this book is to present sound theory and practices hopefully leading to a better understanding of worker performance and output--and improved management of human resources on the farm. The emphasis of this publication is in areas most critical to the productivity of personnel on your farm.

Besides teaching and research, an important part of my job as farm advisor is to work directly with individual farm employers, helping them with challenging issues they face. This second edition has been substantially revised and tested in the field. Some of the changes are subtle, such as the order in which to approach a problem. Perhaps the greatest change has been the addition of numerous examples of how farm employers have dealt with many of the issues. Some of these examples have been altered but others stand essentially as they happened.

This book was written on the premise that those who read it will want to maximize farm output as well as long-term profits. For labor management to be successful, it must benefit both farmer and worker in the long run. I hope this will be a useful reference for years. The emphasis is on management principles whose importance transcend geographical and cultural backgrounds, rather than on legal requirements. It is imperative, then, that a qualified local labor attorney is consulted, before implementing many of the suggestions found herein.

Human resource management must do much more than foster good relationships between management and personnel. It must also provide farm employers with more creative and cost-efficient ways of managing agricultural labor. I have tried to present material that draws out alternatives and corresponding consequences.

There are benefits to reading Labor Management in Agriculture sequentially, but it is also meant for individual chapters to essentially stand alone. Farm employers can focus on topics of special interest to them. Some topics are more technical in nature, while others are more people oriented, dealing with supervision and interpersonal relations.

An overview of the field of human resource management is given in Chapter 1. It warns against trying to solve every problem with the same set of management tools, and suggests that farm employers can really affect organizational results. Chapters 2 and 3 promote a selection process in which the use of practical tests plays a specially critical role. Who is hired is one of the most important decisions a farm manager will make. In agriculture, as in so many other types of organizations, employers often select people based on first impressions, or insufficient data. Issues related to movement of employees within the organization, including the role of seniority vs. merit are addressed in Chapter 4.

Chapter 5 provides tips on training employees, and establishes parameters for training partnerships with public or government organizations. Chapter 6, contributes a new approach to performance appraisal, one that leans heavily on effective negotiation strategies. Compensation is the subject of Chapters 7 and 8, dealing with internal wage structures and incentive pay. Wage structures deal with equity issues in terms of what people get paid in contrast to others, both within and outside the organization. While compensation is not the only reason people work, it is important to understand how compensation affects employee motivation and morale, as well as business viability. A number of incentive pay strategies are discussed. A persistent lack of understanding in the area of incentive pay management has frequently kept agricultural employers from benefiting from this immensely powerful tool.

Supervisory power is the subject of Chapter 9. Power can only be maintained when it is not abused. Abuse of power can take different forms, such as favoritism, dishonesty, and sexual harassment. Chapter 10 sets the stage for more effective delegation. Employees often have much to contribute in terms of creative thinking and solutions to challenges, and this potential is seldom tapped to its potential. Conducting effective meetings is the subject of Chapter 11. Decision-making meetings can tap into the creative potential of employees. Chapter 12 focuses on day to day issues of interpersonal relations, and includes topics of special interest to farm employers with a multi-cultural workforce. Interpersonal contact can lead to conflict, and that is the topic of Chapter 13.

Chapter 14 helps supervisors separate performance problems and analyze their causes. Suggestions are provided for ways of approaching employees so the problem is not compounded. When employees leave, management often loses a valuable asset. Chapter 15 considers what employers can do to reduce unwanted turnover. Personnel policies are considered in Chapter 16. A sick leave policy is used as an example of how employees can turn a policy that encourages people to be sick, to one where employees feel an incentive to come to work.

Chapter 17 is new to this edition. It is a bit of a review, and also provides a test of people-management skills, through the use of various scenarios. Because of its importance, much of the book deals with negotiation principles in one way or another. The essence of effective negotiation is understanding that long-term solutions are more likely when the needs of all the participants are considered.

This book is meant to stimulate and structure positive action. Some ideas seem unique, and no matter where I go, someone will say, "That won’t work here." Yet almost invariably someone else will comment "It works, and we are already doing it."

Library of Congress Control Number 2001092378

© 2001 by The Regents of the University of California
Agricultural Issues Center

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Labor Management in Ag
Table of Contents

14 August 2006