The challenges of being a farm manager

Being a farm manager is a demanding job. Roelof Bezuidenhout provides helpful tips on how to succeed.

The challenges of being a farm manager
A foreman has many duties on the farm. In addition to organising teams of workers, he is expected to use his common sense and creativity to constantly solve problems.
Photo: FW Archive

While being a jack of all trades is a definite plus for a foreman, he or she should try to gain extra qualifications.

This includes attending short courses offered by agricultural colleges. It is essential to be technically and practically competent, have some business sense, and keep pace with developments.

This is one way of adding value to the farm and carving out a long career in agriculture. manager – or ‘foreman’, as some still call it – with an understanding farmer could lead to a secure future in agriculture.

Unfortunately, it could also result in disillusionment for both farmer and employee. This is not likely on a large company farm, but it can happen on a livestock or crop farm, where farm managers are vulnerable to being treated unfairly.

The reason for this is that the job description is broad and you never really know where your responsibility ends. In addition, you are looking after valuable and vulnerable assets.

Long hours, tough work
Unless you are well-qualified and have some experience, you are likely to work long, hard hours, earning a relatively small salary. However, the perks of farm life could compensate for this.

Despite the tough nature of the job, youngsters keen to live and work on a farm, as well as older couples with farming experience, often apply for these positions. Applicants are sometimes so keen to get the job that they are prepared to start without signing a work contract.

Farmers or absentee landowners advertising for a foreman usually have definite criteria in mind, the most important being that the applicant must be a responsible person.

They want someone whom they can rely on 24 hours a day, and they want that person to do almost anything they themselves cannot do. They also expect their foreman to be enthusiastic, energetic and inventive.

Important Tips for applicants
Find out as much as possible about your prospective employer: the kind of person he or she is; how successful the business is; how the employer treats the staff; and whether he or she has employed a farm manager before.

Ask yourself honestly: are you sure you can make decisions and operate on your own, without having to be told what to do? Are you good at managing people? You could be placed in charge of others.

Do you know enough about the kind of farming operation? If you want to work on a wool sheep farm, for example, you should know how to class wool and fix a windmill. If you’re going to work with machines, you must know something about engines. Be prepared to learn the rest rapidly during your trial period.

You will need a heavy vehicle driver’s licence.

Be prepared to be on full-time duty, and willing to get your hands dirty. Confirm your basic daily working hours, whether you will be paid for overtime, and the arrangement for public holidays and weekends.

Decide on the minimum salary you are prepared to work for and make sure that you will get salary increases and how these will be determined.

Ask for a written contract that’s acceptable to both parties. Make sure it covers everything from medical benefits to the use of a farm bakkie and accommodation. Realise that for the relationship to succeed, there will have to be some flexibility from both sides.

For employers

  • Analyse your reasons for employing a general foreman and what you expect from that person. Do you have the time and ability to train him or her? To what extent will you tolerate mistakes by your new employee?
  • Conduct a proper check on your prospective employee and make sure you can get along with this person.
  • Remember that you’re giving the person a job, not putting him or her through a survival course.

The learning never stops

While being a jack of all trades is a definite plus for a foreman, he or she should try to gain extra qualifications.

This includes attending short courses offered by agricultural colleges. It is essential to be technically and practically competent, have some business sense, and keep pace with developments. This is one way of adding value to the farm and carving out a long career in agriculture.