Milk Wage Map
March 31, 2016

The Wages You Pay: Dairy Farmers Invest in Employees Despite Tight Margins

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

MILK Intelligence

It’s hard to imagine a time when it was more difficult to find and keep affordable dairy workers. You rely on affordable labor to stay profitable, yet your ability to control all the factors that impact labor is limited. Some states are boosting mandated minimum wages; meanwhile the supply of dairy workers, oftentimes filled by immigrants, can be unreliable.

In a recent MILK Intelligence Survey of large-dairy operators*, nearly 30% of respondents described the challenge of finding and keeping good employees as nearly “impossible.”


"How difficult is it to find and keep good employees today?"



Yet you keep investing in your employees, even in the midst of a down market. While most pay well above their states’ minimum wage, more than 85% of survey respondents said they’d given their workers a raise in the past 12 months.


"Do you plan to increase your starting wage in the next 6 months? Have you given any raises in the past 12 months?"



Minnesota dairy farmer Pat Lunemann, who milks 750 cows, says the biggest risk to his family’s dairy is a lack of quality employees. “Many of our employees are Hispanic, but they are aging, and there are no new immigrant workers available,” he says.

While the 84 respondents paid an average hourly rate of $10.62, there were outliers. One New York dairy reported paying its starting milkers $22 an hour, well above the state’s $9 minimum wage, even if current efforts succeed in boosting it to $15. An Illinois dairy also reported paying $20 an hour.


"What is your full-time milkers' starting hourly wage?"



Increased wages aren’t the only incentive dairymen use. Almost 65% of those surveyed offer housing as part of compensation, more than 40% offer bonuses and nearly the same number, 39%, offer health insurance.


"What do you offer your full-time employees?"