Startup aims to bridge the gap between farm labor shortage and jobs lost due to COVID-19 pandemic
AMES, Iowa (April 1, 2020) – Working in agriculture his entire life, Michael Schaeffer saw firsthand the challenges farmers face with labor shortage. Hoping to alleviate some of those challenges, the eastern Iowa native developed a mobile platform, called the FarmHand App, to help farmers connect with farm laborers. However, in the wake of COVID-19, America’s rapidly changing economic landscape is accelerating demand for the app’s other main feature – helping qualified farmhands find jobs.
“Due to COVID-19, we’re already seeing economic upheaval, with more Americans searching for work,” Schaeffer said. “But the paradox is, farmers are always shorthanded – labor is their highest need and they need workers now.”
Schaeffer aims to help bridge the “workers wanted – work needed” gap with his startup’s app.
FarmHand App works by enabling farmers to post work and farmhands to see where the jobs are and apply. It features ratings and reviews and allows local workers to list their work experience.
“Job seekers are provided free job board access to search and apply for active jobs at any given time,” Schaeffer said.
The app enables farmers to review applications, schedule calendar updates, send real-time messages and manage all ongoing communications from the convenience of their mobile phone.
Schaeffer said his goal is to get the FarmHand App, which is free and available to download on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, in the hands of farmers and farmhands as quickly as possible. He said there is growing concern about food security, due to the State Department’s temporary suspension of routine visa services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“U.S. restriction of visas for farmworkers will mean farmers are in critical need of additional workers to replace immigrant workers they rely on,” he said. “No one knows how long the suspension will last, but what we do know is, farmers can’t afford to be without workers, especially at the start of the growing season.”
Schaeffer said traditional means of finding help, such as posting ads on bulletin boards, in newspapers, Craigslist or word of mouth, “aren’t effective anymore.” In contrast, he said the app provides farmers and job seekers a convenient “one-stop-shop” for better, more interactive communications.
“Direct messaging is what people are looking for right now,” he said.
Currently, the startup is focusing on connecting farmers and job seekers in the Midwest, but Schaeffer said he hopes to expand FarmHand’s reach in the very near future.
“I’m passionate about trying to help solve problems in ag – and at FarmHand, we have the capacity to grow and are ready to help address the labor shortage challenges farmers face,” he said. “Right now, we are working to get the word out about FarmHand to help with our region’s immediate need, and will expand as the demand for our solution increases.”
Schaeffer’s roots run deep in agriculture, and he said he is committed to doing his part to help farming’s future.
“I couldn’t change the weather, or change corn prices, but I knew I could look for a better labor solution,” he said. “Helping our farmers, that’s what inspires me most, and keeps me moving forward with growing and developing FarmHand.”
Farmhand App is a cohort eight member of the Iowa State University (ISU) Startup Factory, a 52-week intensive program housed at the ISU Research Park. As a member of the program, the company receives formal training through a curriculum centered on business validation, customized mentoring, resources and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors and investors.
About FarmHand App
FarmHand App, founded by Iowa-native Michael Schaeffer, is a mobile platform giving farmers the ability to connect with “farmhands” for day-to-day or seasonal employment. For more information, visit thefarmhandapp.com.
About ISU Startup Factory
The Iowa State University (ISU) Startup Factory is a 52-week intensive program housed at the ISU Research Park (ISURP). Entrepreneurs in the Startup Factory receive formal training, resources, and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors, and investors in two 26-week blocks: the first a formal curriculum centered on business validation, and the second, customized to their individual business needs. For more information on the ISU Startup Factory program, call 515-294-7444 or visit isustartupfactory.org.
About ISU Research Park
Establish in 1987, The Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) is a real estate development community closely affiliated with Iowa State University. ISURP assists both established and startup companies in connecting with Iowa State’s vast infrastructure to grow their enterprises; whether through students, research entities, equipment or a multitude of other resources. ISURP is currently home to 96 companies and research centers and 10 affiliates, employing 2,253 and 89 people, respectively, and occupies approximately 800,000 square feet of commercial real estate on 400 acres. For more information on ISURP, call 515-296-4204 or visit isupark.org.
Julie Lelonek, Iowa State University Startup Factory Communications
Iowa State University
Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations
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Ames, IA 50010