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Cultivating cross-cultural understanding in dairy industry managers|
By Celena E. Kusch
Traditionally, dairy farmers have focused much of their attention on the production issues of raising animals and operating a dairy farm, but todays dairy industry demands a wider range of business skills, especially in training and managing human resources.|
In the tight farm labor market of the 21st century, dairy producers are increasingly turning to the large population of Hispanic agricultural laborers to fill their workforce needs. According to Vinton Smith, Capital Region dairy management agent based with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Adams County, this trend has farmers reaching out to something new in the dairy industry. The new workforce does help to solve some of the labor problems, but the cross-cultural issues open a new realm of problems, particularly in communication across a language barrier, Smith said.
How would I hire someone if I cant talk to them? Smith asked. From our meetings with dairy producers, Cooperative Extension realized that there is a dramatic need to build understanding about cultural background and expectations. There are many simple things that can make a real difference with people, and we wanted to help dairy producers manage their employees with greater success.
To address these needs, Smith and Cooperative Extension colleagues from both Penn State and Cornell University forged a partnership to design and deliver the Managing a Hispanic Workforce program. Earlier this year, joint one-day conference programs were offered in Camp Hill, Pa., and Rochester, N.Y.
The goal was to educate dairy producers about supervising, training, motivating and valuing a multicultural workforce. Special emphasis was placed on motivating dairy farmers to address language issues in their own management practices.
Dr. Theodore R. Alter, associate vice president for outreach, director of Penn State Cooperative Extension and associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, explained, This initiative is important for strengthening Pennsylvanias dairy industry. A well-functioning, efficient labor force on each dairy farm is necessary for farm profitability. As our labor force becomes more diverse, programs which help farmers address language and cultural issues are essential.
Smith helped to coordinate the program with Rich Stup, human resources management specialist for Penn State Cooperative Extensions Dairy Alliance; Thomas Maloney, senior extension associate in the Department of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University; and David Grusenmeyer, Cornell University senior extension associate for PRO-DAIRY, a New York state dairy industry educational program for farm families and other agricultural professionals.
The Managing a Hispanic Workforce program really highlights what Penn State espouses about cultural diversity, Smith noted. The fact that Penn State and Cornell could do it jointly made it doubly successful, because we worked together and gained more recognition in the dairy industry by cooperating than by working alone.
A significant part of the management education program focuses on valuing diversity in culture, religion and social expectations. Juan Marinez, national program leader and farm worker coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Betty Garcia-Mathewson, diversity education specialist for New York State Migrant Education and an extension support specialist in the Cornell Migrant Program, led sessions on these topics.
Smith explained the importance of studying the social interactions people often take for granted, saying, Even just understanding the cultural expectation for managers to greet the employees when walking into the barn can make a great difference in building an effective work environment.
One conclusion that we found in designing this program is that it is essential that someone in management can speak Spanish. We shouldnt think about supervising a Hispanic workforce without knowing at least some Spanish, he added.
The program stressed that dairy managers do not need a four-year Spanish language course to improve managing effectiveness. Smith recommended using the Internet, language tapes and software packages that teach Spanish basics to build a bridge toward a bilingual work climate.
As soon as dairy producers make the first step, suddenly employees and supervisors find they are communicating with each other better than they thought they could, Smith observed.
Along with Cooperative Extension experts from the partner institutions, the program included presenters Thomas Matecki, supervisory special agent for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; Miguel Morales, area market manager for Monsanto; Lance Payne, senior special agent for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; Rapheal Ramos, director of the ombudsman program with the Pennsylvania mushroom industry and a labor consultant; and Doug Speicher, regional services coordinator for Genex Cooperative.
After the program, Penn State and Cornell University Cooperative Extension agents conducted follow-up conference calls and a survey to measure impact and implementation of management strategies. Published conference proceedings are also available through the Dairy Alliance (http://www.dairyalliance.org).
In the future, Smith hopes to develop language education programs in Pennsylvania modeled on Cornell Universitys milker training school in Spanish and a Spanish school for dairy producers.