May 4, 2017

Northwest FCS News

Recently, I was in Spokane, Washington, at a program for young and beginning farmers. One of the young producers in attendance had just returned to the farm business from a nearly six-figure salary job in a large city. In sharp contrast, his monthly draw from the farm is $800. Dr. Alex White of Virginia Tech’s Dairy Science Program was with me at the program, and we were both floored by the figure. However, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now for the rest of the story.” 

Yes, this producer took a salary of only $800 per month, or $9,600 annually. However, he did have some impressive benefits, which made a much more balanced picture. The farm provided his house with utilities, as well as an allowance for fuel and repairs. Next, his health insurance was covered 100 percent, which can be a significant expense on its own. The farm also contributed to his retirement plan. Added onto the benefits were two weeks of vacation, and educational seminars and programs paid for by the business. 

Among other positives, he listed the absence of a commute. Previously, he spent hours of his day traveling to and from work. He also relished the opportunity for his kids to grow up on the farm with active and involved grandparents. In fact, he described the increased time with his three kids as “priceless.” Although mentioned as an aside, the lower cost of rural living also presented considerable savings.

The family had not developed a transition plan at this early point, but discussions had already taken place. The ability to advance, grow, evolve and carry on the business was a particularly exciting possibility for this producer. Although he learned a great deal in his off-farm job, he would never have had the opportunity to own the business, which, depending on the business culture, can feel defeating.

Lastly, this young producer cited his happiness as a benefit of his recent “boomerang” return. Farm life presented unique opportunities not found inside a large metropolis. This producer remarked that his emotional intelligence, as well as that of his entire family, was growing and evolving into better life skills.

After tallying all his compensations, this producer felt quite fulfilled. It is true that in a comparison of salaries he would be on the extreme low end. However, as demonstrated, salary is not the only form of compensation, and sometimes it isn’t even the most significant. Next time you consider compensation for the hard work of farming, make sure to examine all the benefits, seen and unseen.