“How Ya Gonna’ Keep ’em Down on the Farm?” That World War I-era song about losing rural talent to the city could have been written today. Finding and keeping good workers is a challenge facing just about every vegetable grower.
Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle has several suggestions that have proven successful for them, all of which revolve around respect for the individual. Long a forward-thinking bastion of the industry, Tanimura & Antle is one of the largest independently-owned vegetable grower-packer-shippers in the U.S. Founded in 1982, it has been passionate about growing premium-quality produce and acknowledging the worth of the employees who make it all happen. “Workers are the backbone of our business,” says President/CEO Rick Antle. “In contrast to industry norm, we endeavor to employ our entire labor force. They support us in the most difficult of times, as well as in the most profitable times. So making sure they have the right benefits — health, dental, vision, retirement — is a priority.”
In a day and time when fieldworker availability is no longer a given, Tanimura & Antle has managed to attract and retain a core workforce of more than 2,500 employees that can rise seasonally to as many as 7,500 at locations in Salinas, Hollister, Huron, and Oxnard, CA, and in Yuma, AZ, and Livingston, TN. More than 60 harvest crews are kept busy year-round.
There are lessons to be learned in how they manage to keep folks happy and feeling their own sense of personal worth — from those on the starting end of the employee roster all the way up the chain of production that farms more than 36,000 acres and ships product throughout North America, Asia, and Europe….
Consider Making Employees Part-Owners
“The wage scale we pay attracts and retains our workers,” Antle says. “And our newest program, ESOP (employee stock ownership program, initiated in February 2017), will give an added incentive to workers who return year after year.”
Tanimura & Antle offers ESOP to employees who work a minimum of 1,000 hours during the year, which includes just about every employee.
“All employees will be owners of the company,” Antle says. “It helps ensure that the people who make it happen here every day share in the growth they’re creating. And that’s in addition to our 401k and family health insurance programs.”
Decision-makers felt ESOP was the best method of giving workers a piece of the company, embedding them in Tanimura & Antle family traditions, and in turn, shaping the future for the company as well as workers and their families. By making this move, Tanimura & Antle became one of the first grower-packer-shipper operations in the U.S. to share company ownership with all qualified domestic employees, running the payroll gamut from seed to sale.