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FarmHand Helps Farmers Hire

Ag labor app fosters connections during COVID-19.

The struggle to solve the farm labor shortage isn’t anything new.

According to the National Agricultural Statistical Service’s Farm Labor Survey, the number of self-employed and family farmworkers declined from 1950 through 1990 by 74%. And hired farmworkers declined by 51% during the same time period.

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages shows an employment stabilization in the 2000s and a gain of 11% between 2010 and 2018.

Ag technology adoption on the farm has helped streamline some operations through sensors, forecasting models, automation, and robotics. And while the percentage gain in the 2010s is encouraging, farmers still keenly feel the lack of reliable workers. 

This is where farm labor apps like FarmHand fill the gap.

Michael Schaeffer, a farmer in eastern Iowa, precision ag specialist, and founder of the company, began developing FarmHand in 2018 in response to his customers’ needs and a changing job marketplace. No longer do newspaper ads, gas station flyers, or word of mouth create enough awareness.

“I can’t change the weather, I can’t change corn prices, but before I founded FarmHand, I went on a search to find a farm labor solution and didn’t find anything, so I decided to make one,” says Schaeffer.

FarmHand is a free app available on Google Play and Apple stores. Farmers who download the app post jobs, review applicants, and hire the person best fit for the task at hand. Job seekers download the app and look for positions that fit their location and interests, which can range from trucking to custom fieldwork to general farm labor, and more.

Both parties can rate and review each other and communicate through an in-app messaging system.

FarmHand is nearing the one-year anniversary of the app’s launch and already has gained over 2,600 active users and approximately 250 job postings.

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The company is now participating in the Iowa State University Startup Factory, a year-long program that provides start-ups with coaching on business and customer validation, product-market fit, and connections to a mentor network. The program’s goal is to help launch successful companies and create economic development.

Kris Johansen, interim director of the ISU Startup Factory, says the percentage of farmers who use smartphones to manage their operations and percentage of hired farmworkers who use smartphones to manage their daily lives makes a phone app for hiring very sensible.

“FarmHand provides value to the ag industry through a much more efficient hiring system than the old-fashioned newspaper or tear-off flyer in a local eatery,” comments Johansen. “Of course now, under the current circumstances, that wouldn’t work at all.”

Finding job opportunities is even more essential now as unemployment rises due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Because of current events, there are lots of displaced workers who are going to be out looking for jobs, and if they've lost a job in a different industry, they might be able to find a job in ag more quickly using FarmHand app,” says Johansen.

Technology is changing the way we search for and secure jobs. Platforms that quickly and easily connect those in need will continue to grow in the future.

“We’ve been waiting for an ag labor solution for a while,” says Schaeffer. “And especially right now, we have had a lot of questions about the situation with COVID-19. There are many people being laid off, and yet agriculture doesn’t stop. If there are people out of work trying to make ends meet, this is one solution to help.”

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