This Mississippi family farm keeps good employees happy by using different ways of communication to keep everyone on the same page. The farm also uses farm management software to track efficiency and labor.
Senior agronomist, Silent Shade Planting Company
Tell us a bit about yourself and your farm.
Silent Shade Planting Company is an 8,500-acre family farm Belzoni, Miss. We grow corn, cotton, soybean, rice and peanuts. As the senior agronomist on the farm, I manage the agronomic side as well as our research program. I got a PhD from Mississippi State University in weed science, and my first job was with the USDA ERS in Stoneville. I came to the farm in fall 2014. The farm was growing exponentially, and it was tougher for my brother-in-law Jeremy to keep up with everything that had to be done.
Describe your farm’s field and management team.
We’ve got every sector of the business covered. My wife Stacie deals with financials and the marketing side. Her brother is the CEO, so he makes a lot of the decisions about what to do day-to-day to the farm’s short- and long-term strategy. His wife Elizabeth manages human resources and our safety program. Jeremy’s parents, Willard and Laura Lee, are still very involved with a little bit of everything. Our field crew includes two farm managers and 12 operators.
What tools or practices do you use everyday to enable collaboration and communication among your team?
We rely on a lot of communication. We have a daily 7 a.m. meeting with the crew to get everything laid out for the day. Jeremy and I talk the night before, and then we’ll talk to the farm managers, so that the next day everyone agrees on the priorities. We use texts, emails, phone calls – a lot of one-on-one communication when we’re out. In the winter it’s more in-person discussions.
On the business side, the management team meets every Wednesday from 12 to 1pm. We go through what’s happening and highlight the things we need to think about so we’re all on the same page. We have another quarterly meeting where the six of us discuss big picture topics.
How much information about the farm's business do you share with your team?
We share information about the state of the business primarily during individual performance reviews at the end of the year. These happen during the slow times, in the office behind closed doors. We share where we want to be in one, three and five years. We talk about things that are not directly related to their daily role.
How do you keep your team motivated and interested in what they do every day?
A lot of communication means that everyone understands what everyone else is going to be doing. We treat them fairly, honestly and well. No one gets yelled at. In November we have our employee appreciation dinner, with speakers and activities. From a salary standpoint, our crew gets paid really well, better than what they could get in our area. But we expect a lot.
Everyone gets a performance review and we have a bonus structure for every employee – from truck drivers to managers to the field crew. Their bonus is tied to 1) safety, 2) our crop that year and 3) their overall performance on things like tardiness, attitude, etc.
People get written up if someone does something wrong (and it’s very clear), then there’s disciplinary action. We explain what they did, and show “here’s what you should’ve done” We both sign it. Those documents are used during the performance review.
What tips would you give farms that are struggling to find and/or retain good employees?
First of all, you can’t have good people that want to work only nine months out of the year and then be unemployed for the other three. I feel like the times have changed so much from when the labor force didn’t work in the winter. They need to be employed year-round.
We give our employees a phone. We expect them to use it for work purposes mostly, but you have to utilize technology – the younger guys want to utilize technology at work and get things done. Figure out how technology can fit with our management style.
Finally, if you have one bad apple you’ve got a bad barrel. It’s amazing what can happen when you’ve got even one person with a bad attitude. We have no tolerance for that. Whatever it may be, when you don’t have a bad apple, it’s amazing what people can do together.
How has Granular FMS caused you to think differently about your business overall?
We feel so much better about our ability to predict our profitability, cost, and potential revenue at a much more accurate level than ever before. It helps us track the efficiency of our labor accurately. Being able to more accurately track costs, profit potential, and revenue helps us tremendously when we apply our production loan at the local bank – this is one of the things that enables us to ensure our team we’ll be around and growing for years to come.