Cornucopia’s Take: Immigration policies have made farm laborers hard to find. U.S. citizens are largely unwilling to perform the demanding work required to grow and harvest the food we eat, so farmers have turned to the H-2A visa program for help. The paperwork and requirements of the program are increasingly daunting, and farmers are often unable to get enough help to bring in huge crops at one time. Interestingly, this labor shortage is causing some farmers to diversify their crops in order to spread their labor needs across the growing season, resulting in a smaller workforce that is employed longer.
Farmers Are Seeking More Temporary H-2A Workers, And Keeping Them Longer
Harvest Public Media
by Esther Honig
The high-desert town of Palisade, Colorado, is synonymous with fresh, locally grown peaches. Years ago, thousands of migrant workers would flock here each year in August to harvest the fuzzy fruit. But today, on its narrow dirt roads, Bruce Talbott drives a truck loaded down with 9 tons of wine grapes.
For more than 100 years and five generations, Talbott’s family has grown mostly peaches. But he’s diversified, he said, because in the early 2000s, that pool of labor began drying up. Now, he grows peaches, grapes, cherries and pears, all of which ripen at different points in the season.
“There’s not a labor pool that would allow us to pick that volume of fruit all at once,” he said.
Across the country, farmers have voiced concerns over what they say is a growing labor shortage. While there are about 2.7 million agricultural workers in the U.S. — about half undocumented immigrants — farmers say finding reliable local workers has become increasingly difficult, especially for hand-picked fruit and vegetable crops.
That’s why an increasing number are turning to the federal H-2A visa program, which allows farmers to bring in workers temporarily from foreign countries. In the 2018 fiscal year, more than 240,000 H-2A visas were granted: a record and a 21 percent increase from about a year ago.
The program isn’t cheap: Employers are required to provide housing, travel and pay the adverse effect wage, an hourly rate that’s slightly higher than the regional minimum wage. Estimates range from $1,000 to $2,000 a worker, so that’s why farmers like Talbott have learned to bring workers in earlier in the season and keep them until late fall. Read Full Article »