Earl Hall, of Fresno, is arguably the largest agricultural employer in the state. Licensed to provide farm labor in 29 counties, service to more 326,000 acres (including 90,000 acres of tomatoes) and approximately 30,000 employees statewide, his role in the local and state economy is substantial. Hall has provided labor services for more than 40 years, and plans to work so long as he is physically capable of working.
“I have no regrets in life,” Hall said. “If I wanted to do something, I went out and did it. I did not want to go through life thinking of what could have been.”
When Hall was six months old, his father was forced to leave their farm in Oklahoma, which was devastated by the well-documented Dust Bowl of the 1940s. They moved to Wasco, where Hall’s father became farm manager for a family farm. Growing up around agriculture, Hall enjoyed farming, but he realized at a young age a niche needed to be filled.
Since the farm was not family-owned, Hall was concerned about his ability to get started in farming. His scenario and vision pushed him to think outside-the box.
Hall acknowledged that while farmers were good at growing quality crops, the industry began to change. “I saw a need for more bookkeeping, marketing, integration and leadership,” he said. Hall said these were relatively new concepts at the time.
After two years of junior college, the agricultural business major came into focus at California State University, Fresno. Hall transferred to Fresno State and graduated in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business.
When Hall graduated, he had been married to Beverly for three years. At the time, Beverly was a licensed vocation nurse who worked for a local doctor. The doctor asked Hall to go in on a 160-acre grape vineyard, and a partnership was formed.
“At the time, it was very tough to find people to harvest your grapes,” Hall said. “We somehow managed enough labor to make it through harvest that first year. When we were done harvesting our grapes, the neighbors approached me to have the crew harvest their grapes as well.”
Hall then acquired his farm labor contractor’s license, workers compensation insurance, and all the necessary documents, and provided the labor for harvest for his neighbors in exchange for a few bucks. “It was the time of the year we wanted to keep our farm workers busy and people liked working for me, so the labor services grew from there,” he said. As more requests were made, more jobs were created for Hall’s crew.
Despite Hall’s success with farm labor contracting, his own operation was facing a time when grapes were no longer profitable given the size of his operation, so he began working as a farm labor contractor full time. “It took me 20 years before I finally got the [farm labor contracting] business clicking,” he said. “But I still saw a different niche that needed to be filled when things started to turn around for us. I began to be approached by larger companies.”
Instead of providing the labor for these companies, Hall saw a need to provide all production services for these growers. “I want growers to be able to focus on one thing: growing crops.” As the industry began experiencing complex laws and regulations and state- and federal-mandated record keeping, he noticed growers were facing challenges in avoiding personal liability. As a result, Hall saw the opportunity to provide these types of services, and personnel management became their primary service.
“The idea behind the concept is that employees would be employed by us with the exception of the ranch manager, and the ranch managers can simply manage the farm while we provide employee training and resources. In over 40 years, not one time have labor disputes placed liability on the grower. Everything we do is in compliance with the law.”
Hall said farmers want to farm. “Farmers simply do not have time to keep up with laws and regulations without any type of assistance. Farmers can become overwhelmed, and we want to help farmers do what they do best.
“We do not advertise and we do not solicit business. We want companies to come to us because they want to come to us. We want the quality of our work to do the talking for us.”
When picking companies that approach Hall for their labor personnel services, Hall looks at the company’s philosophy. “We want growers who share the same values as we do. We want growers who want to do well, and do it the right way; by following the law.”
A great example of Hall’s philosophy is his commitment to safety. Hall Ag Enterprises has its own in-house safety department. All training is done internally, and they have full-time trainers, supervisors, managers and compliance officers. “We do not want to be looking over our shoulders. We want to be ahead of the game.
“One of my favorite things to do is perform inspections. We go through as if it were a real Cal OSHA inspection, and inspect for any potential problem areas.” Of all the years of inspections, he has only been cited a couple of times, and each time the court dismissed the citation after he demonstrated compliance with the rules. After 16 inspections from various agencies in 2008 alone, he had zero citations. Part of the reason is because he has “stacked the deck,” hiring former employees from Cal OSHA, FELS, the labor commission and other enforcement agencies.
Hall also enjoys working with the individuals in the industry. “I like visiting with growers and discussing new ways to become more efficient. I like reading reports from our field guys during harvest, and seeing how our workers are learning and developing on the job. I like seeing new ways we can be more valuable to our growers.”
As one of the largest employers in the state, perhaps Hall’s greatest joy comes from providing a way of life for his employees. A great example of his loyalty to employees came in 2008 when 20,000 acres Hall provides services to went unplanted due to the water shortage. “We did not lay off one employee. Instead, we looked for opportunities elsewhere and found more business, and simply moved our employees from one operation to the next.”
Another example of Hall’s philosophy can best be reflected in how he approaches his payroll. “I do not tolerate late payments to our employees,” he said. “I understand there are many people in our community and in our organization that live paycheck-to-paycheck. It is morally correct to take care of people.”
Hall has assured his employees they will always have work. If they want to work year-round, they can work year-round. If they want seasonal work, they can do seasonal work. Collectively, Hall’s various operations provide an important piece to the local economy. He is providing a way of life not only to his employees, but to all of his growers and businesses that depend on the success of the agriculture industry to improve their bottom line.
All in the family
Hall and his wife Beverly have has two children, Stacey and Brad. Stacey is married to Todd Hampton, a professional rodeo team roper and former professional horse trainer. Both Todd and Stacey work for the business. Brad is married to Elizabeth and is a missionary in Asia.
When Hall retires, his son-in-law, Todd, will be taking over the operation. Since 2006, he has been studying the operations. He has become acquainted with various aspects of the business, from production agriculture to administrative responsibilities.
In addition to Hall’s immediate family, his office has a family-like atmosphere, with employees that have been with him for many years. “I have helped put a lot of my employees through school, and they have done very well for this company,” Hall said.
Hall learned later on in his career, that it is wise to delegate responsibility. “Our operation has just become too big for me to do everything,” he said. “That’s why I find it important to surround myself with good people.”
Working for the industry
“It breaks my heart to see people in the labor business break the law,” Hall said. “Together, we need to work hard to upgrade the industry. Personally, I am trying to make a difference.”
As part of Hall’s effort to improve the industry, he is part of the Farm Labor Contractors Alliance, California Association of Agricultural Labor and an active member of Ag Safe.
Hall has provided great insight to FCFB on labor services and advice on immigration reform policy. Hall also serves on the CFBF Labor Committee, providing much needed local representation at the state level.
Hall was named the Fresno Bee’s 2003 Central California Excellence in Business award recipient.
Something many people do not know about Hall is his passion for reading. Some of his reading includes history books, novels, the Bible, history of Israel, World War II and one of his favorites, Seabiscuit.
Hall also is very generous to the community, providing financial assistance to various agencies, including cases involving child services, health care and other charitable organizations.
Hall grew up around rodeo. He has experimented with all rodeo events, but fell into team roping as his main event. When Hall was 18, he turned pro, and has been involved on the pro circuit ever since. He is a lifetime member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
Hall holds a “gold card,” which allows him to continue to compete on the circuit in the over-50 age group. In addition to his involvement at various rodeo events, Hall provides personal assistance in helping youth prepare for rodeo events, through both advice and sponsorship.
Hall is involved in the local chapter of Friends of Rodeo, a group that works with legislators on education of animal welfare as it relates to rodeo. He also served on the Clovis Rodeo Association Board for 10 years and assists with the Jackpot Team Roping in Firebaugh every year.
While Hall has been provided with numerous accolades through professional rodeo, his most memorable awards came as a two-time champion of the Chowchilla Stampede. His first championship came in 1999 with his good friend Mark Perry, who was tragically lost in a car accident the following year. The second championship came in 2008, with his son-in-law Todd.
“These events are memorable not only because we won the championship, but because I won those championships with Mark and Todd.”
Meet Your Board Member Profile: Ag Today, Mar 09
By: John Migliazzo