Finding on Survey: Upper Midwest Puerto Rico Collaboration Project Back »

Hispanic Employees working on a milking parlor at a dairy farm in Eastern SD. Photo by Maristela Rovai.

Written collaboratively by Karla Hernandez and Maristela Rovai.

S.D. Dairy Labor Integration Challenges

South Dakota dairies face a shortage of local workers to produce a safe, and affordable food supply. A common method to overcome this is to hire immigrant labor. These workers find it difficult to feel welcome in the community due to language and cultural barriers, resulting in poor integration and a stereotype of being transient. To sustain our existing communities, there is a need of economic opportunities for growth. This project will build capacity for the SD dairy industry by creating a path to recruit legal Puerto Rican (US Territory) workers.

A properly trained labor force reduces accidents and injuries, produces a safe food supply and contributes to the industry’s sustainability. Local communities depend on the economic support of the farms and allied industries doing business with dairies and their employees. The general public relies on farms for a safe and affordable food supply and dairies require a workforce legally able to work with a long-term commitment to both the farm and local community. Collaboration between employers and community leaders creates an environment where immigrants feel at home and settle. Offering Puerto Rican workers employment with our dairies leads to a less transient image as they integrate, contribute to the local economy and cultural diversity of the community.

Survey Findings

The first stage of this project, was to distribute a survey throughout all dairy producers in South Dakota. This information was used to shape highly relevant activities in support of the State’s dairy industry.


  • Submission: July 18, 2016
  • Completion: August 10, 2016
  • 34 surveys fully completed

Question 1: Where in South Dakota, at the county level, is your farm operation located?

  • While the responders did provide their counties in the survey, many requested to remain anonymous.
  • To comply with that request, the map below shows general location of where responding dairies are located.
  • (20 responses, 14 in blank)

Question 2: Would you provide a snapshot of your operation?

  • Milking Frequency: 2 to 3 times per day
  • Number of Employees: Ranged from 0 (small farms) to 50
  • Average pounds of milk per day per cow: Ranged from 55-68.90
  • Herdsize (20 responses, 10 in blank)
  • Number of lactating cows (22 responses, 12 in blank)
  • Number of milking units (22 responses, 12 in blank)

Question 3: Does your farm employees have any Hispanic employees? If so, how many?

  • The average ranged from zero in small farms to 45 employees.
  • (22 Responses, 12 in blank)

Question 4: For all your employees, how long has the average employee been working at your operation?

  • The average for all employees ranged among 2 to 11 years of service.
  • (12 Responses, 22 in blank)

Questions 5 & 6 Besides wages… What do you feel is the biggest reason for employee turnover in your operation? What do you think would help reduce employee turnover within your operation?

  • Reason for Employee Turnover:
    • Not getting along with team leaders.
    • Conflict with other employees.
    • Lack of housing.
    • People from different countries.
    • Change in family situations.
    • Employees leave without notice.
    • Work quality.
    • Communication.
    • Lack of interest.
    • Wanting to leave closer to family.
    • Easier opportunities.
    • Freeloaders.
    • Responsibility.
  • Reduce Employee Turnover:
    • Affordable housing.
    • Understanding police force.
    • Public transportation.
    • Community activities.
    • Have employees that come from the same town, city or country, and involve them in some decision making.
    • A feeling of security for their family so they feel they can build a future with the operation.
    • Learn English to help further their employment opportunities.
    • Training.
    • Having friends in the area.
    • Good and affordable housing for family.
    • More family time.
    • More turn off.
    • More understanding of how important their job is.
    • Wanting to live closer to family members.

Questions 7 & 8: What training do you feel is most important for any newly arrived employee? Concerning immigrant labor, what do you feel is the biggest hurdle they face integrating into our Region?

  • Important Training for New Employees:
    • Orientation in the farm.
    • Rules and Regulations.
    • Communication.
    • Personal and Food Safety.
    • Working along and have employees welcome new workers.
    • Training.
    • Importance of doing their job right.
    • Introduction and training in their native language.
    • An understanding of the operation.
    • Milking routine.
  • Immigrant Labor Integration Hurdles:
    • Language barrier.
    • No transportation.
    • Acceptance.
    • Make employees feel part of your family.
    • Access to drive (License and insurance).
    • Cultural differences.
    • Legality.
    • Ability know more about the community.
    • Difficulties doing anything with legal paperwork.
    • Return to where they come from.

Question 9: What type of support do you feel an immigrant labor force would need from the community to be successful?

  • Community Support for Immigrant Labor Force:
    • Transportation to shop, attend church, socialize and community activities that they can participate in.
    • None of illegals.
    • English classes- the immigrants that do learn to speak English well seem to thrive as they are now bilingual.
    • Make them feel part of the family and community.
    • Ability to receive health care.
    • Educational support.
    • Do not know, more than 10 years in US. Moved from another country and still treated different.
    • Trust.   
    • Get them out of US.

Question 10: As this project moves forward… Would you be interested in hiring Puerto Ricans as part of your employee pool?

  • 9 people said: YES
  • 5 people said: NO
  • 1 person said: NOT LARGE ENOUGH TO HIRE
  • 1 person said: MAYBE
  • 1 person said: NEVER
  • (18 responses, 16 in blank)
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