by Elizabeth A. Tomlin

People, along with weather and sometimes animals, are a “wild card” in agritourism ventures, said Mariane Kiraly, Delaware County CCE Senior Resource Educator/ Farm Business Management Specialist, while leading the 5th in a series of Managing Risk in Agritourism Businesses classes.

Human resource risk relates to various human behavior factors that impact the success your agritourism venture. They will help you to be successful — or they can create obstacles.

Kiraly explained that human resource risks involve management and labor, family and non-family, full-time and part-time, seasonal and year-round relationships.

Human risk is summarized into four areas; health, family and business relationships, employee management, and transition planning.

As health, behavior, and character of people are unpredictable, human resource risk is frequently the most difficult risk to manage in your venture.

It is important that all involved are aware of the vision and mission of the agritourism enterprise that you are undertaking.

“Managers can mold the work force and are responsible to manage human resource risk.”

Every farm has its own individual culture, with some being very strict about rules and others being more relaxed.

“The management team can change the firm’s culture to manage risk for the benefit of the farm businesses.”

For instance, businesses with a high employee turn-over rate can benefit from good management.

Remember that key concepts in risk management are to avoid, reduce and transfer risk, and accept what cannot be changed.

These concepts can be applied to managing people through several methods.

Having specific, written, job descriptions and supplying training/ orientation for those specific jobs is key. Conflict arises when people are not sure of what their job actually consists of — or what you expect of them.

“Hiring practices have to be consistent and well done.”

Kiraly advises “cross-training” employees, so more than one person can fill the same position adequately.

When training sessions are complete, employees should be required to sign a form stating that they have been trained and understand their duties. Forms should be dated and filed in a safe place where they are available for future use.

Checking references is important. Kiraly pointed out that many businesses ask for references, but never check them.

Compensation to employees can include extra benefits, such as food, lodging, uniforms, or time off. Extra compensation will attract qualified employees that may otherwise go elsewhere. “It’s a way to compete for employees.”

Be sure that employees are capable of the duties assigned to them, both physically and emotionally.

Many folks like horses, but are not capable of handling them. Others may like to drive tractors, but do not have the skill required to navigate a tractor pulling a hay wagon loaded with tourists.

Avoid and reduce your risk by matching employee skill levels with assigned tasks.

Supply all of the tools people need to do their jobs. “Whatever it takes.”

“Employer/ employee interactions, that can also make or break an operation when people are not getting along.”

Establish performance goals and measurements, but you must respect other’s feelings and opinions.

“Performance appraisal should be done routinely,” advised Kiraly. “Either at the end of every season or at the end of the year, depending on if that person is a part-time or a seasonal employee. It should be consistent and the same for everyone.”

Discipline is a necessary tool that may be needed to keep people on track. However, it must be used in a consistent manner that does not provoke tension and possible retaliation. Disgruntled employees can and will hurt your reputation.

“Note the positive as well as what’s not going right.”

And take into consideration of your position as well. “Are you a good manager? Are you providing the right tools?” Employees cannot perform their duties without the necessary tools.

It is critical to document disciplinary actions and keep organized records in a safe place.

A daily, dated recording of employee interaction is not a bad idea.

Use conflict resolutions to manage conflicts.

Keep in mind that family members and family friends may be more difficult to manage.

“It’s sticky with people you know.”

Managing workload may be a balancing act. People value time off, but be sure to have a back up person to fill that position when the time comes and anticipate busy times of the season.

“Not having enough help can be difficult.”

Allow employees down time for physical and mental rest.

“Stress can cause the best relationships to falter, sometimes little things can grow into bigger problems.”

Kiraly showed videos with Dr. Bob Milligan, of Dairy Strategies, that explained employer/ employee relationships and discussed ways to improve these interpersonal relationships and to develop a “team” attitude.

Successful employers work hard at developing critical listening skills and ask employees to “tell me more.”

“On farms and other businesses, we want all employees to be winners,” said Milligan.

Kiraly addressed the “4 D’s of human resource risk,” which include death, divorce, disabilities and disagreements.

“I think that communication will make you or break you in the end,” commented Kiraly.

Week 6 of this series will feature a farmer panel that have currently established a successful agritourism venture.

2019 Manage Risk in Your Agritourism Business series is sponsored by the USDA and the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center, along with CCE Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties. The target of this series was for attendees to successfully complete a risk management plan for agritourism ventures. 

For more information contact Kiraly at