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Selecting a Farm Manager

May contain: plant, food, and produce
Photo by Vic Smothers

Many agricultural operations, both large and small, choose to hire a manager to handle all or part of the day-to-day farm or grove operations. Managers can handle a wide variety of tasks including scheduling irrigation cycles, applying nutrients to the crop, crop harvesting and distribution, as well as many other aspects of running a successful agricultural operation. Prior to hiring a farm or grove manager, consider the overall goals for the property, crop production and for anyone living on the property. Consider how the property is currently managed and if additional help or input from outside sources is needed to achieve the desired goals.

If it’s decided that additional help is needed, in terms of a farm or grove manager, several options are available. Farm and grove management companies employee multiple, well trained individuals to manage several farming operations. Farm management companies are typically licensed and insured to do business within the state. They tend to manage large operations and, often times, manage several different agricultural properties owned by the same farmer or farming entity. Another management option is to directly hire specific managers or individuals who work for themselves. Direct hire managers may manage just one operation or may have several that they manage on a daily basis.

Some helpful questions to consider before hiring a farm manager include:

  • What responsibilities will the farm manager have?
  • Will they be running every aspect of the farm or agricultural property or will they be focused on maintenance activities such as weeding and irrigation repair?
  • Will the farm manager have access to the operation without the owner being present?
  • Will the farm manager solely decide when to harvest the crop?
  • Will the farm manager determine how much and when to irrigate, fertilize, and apply pesticides?
  • Will the farm manager handle finances such as equipment purchases?
  • Will the farm manager be responsible for marketing?
  • What experience and skills does the farm manager have?
  • Are they knowledgeable about the regulations, permits and laws pertaining to agricultural operations in San Diego County?
  •  How long have they managed farms?
  • Are they familiar with the specific crop’s industry?
  • How will they communicate with the property owner and how often?
  • Do they have a degree or other technical training?
  • Are they open to implementing new technologies?
  • Do they harvest the crop themselves or will it be contracted out?
  • Are they licensed and insured?
  • What computer and software experience do they have?
  • What budgeting and organizational skills do they possess?
  • Do they have basic farm knowledge as it pertains to equipment maintenance, irrigation, soils, and upkeep?
  • Can they provide references?

Being diligent, asking questions, and following up will help with choosing a farm manager that best suits the property owner and property’s needs. Before finalizing any agreement, ensure there is a contract in place to protect the property owner, crop, and the farm manager.

After the contract is signed, it is a good idea to regularly check in on the operation because, after all, it is still the owner’s operation and property. This is especially important if the farm manager is handling all day to day operations or if the property owner lives off-site.

After a farm manager is hired, periodically:

  • Walk the property to check the overall health of the crop.
  • Ensure the irrigation system is in good working order and note any leaks or misaligned heads.
  • Verify all purchases made, including equipment, chemicals, and crop production needs.
  •  Review the marketing strategy with the farm manager.
  • Discuss new, innovative technologies that can save money and protect natural resources.
  • Review the monthly, quarterly, and yearly budget to ensure that farming operations are on track with the financial goals.