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Agri View: Farm Labor Shortage

Dan Agri View, Labor and Immigration

farm labor shortage
Everett Griner talks about solving the farm labor problem in today’s Agri View.

Farm Labor Shortage

It might have been in the news a couple times in the last month or so. It didn’t upset the general population, but it was serious to farmers. A farm labor shortage in at least twenty states. We all know that migrant workers are the foundation of U.S. farm labor. But few if any realize how many migrants it takes to plant, cultivate and harvest a crop. A majority of them are necessary to harvest a crop. And in spite of the effort put forth by our government the number of illegal migrants is staggering. I don’t have any current figures but as far back as 2006, ten years ago, the count was estimated at twelve million illegal workers. Not all were farm workers but the vast majority were. The tragic fact is, according to farm sources, we are no closer to solving the problem now than we were ten years ago. That is a shame.

That’s Agri View for today, I’m Everett Griner.

From: American Farm Bureau

Labor Visa Backlogs Threaten 2016 Crops, Farm Bureau Calls for Action

Agency delays in processing visas for workers who tend and harvest America’s food crops are fast approaching crisis proportions, all but guaranteeing that crops will rot in the field on many farms this year, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said.

Communications with state Farm Bureaus across the nation have revealed worker shortages in more than 20 states.

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Duvall

“Many farmer members have called us and state Farm Bureaus asking for help,” Duvall said. “They face serious hurdles in getting visas for workers in time to tend and harvest this year’s crops. Paperwork delays have created a backlog of 30 days or more in processing H-2A applications at both the Department of Labor and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.”

Farmers depend on the H-2A agricultural visa program to fill gaps in the nation’s ag labor system, but, Duvall said, the program is far from perfect. Processing and procedural delays, such as the government’s use of U.S. mail instead of electronic communications, are leading to losses from unharvested crops.

Duvall and a group of other farmers and policymakers made his case on a conference call for the media. Also joining him were Gary Black, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture; Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; and farmers Bill Brim from Georgia, Carlos Castaneda from California and Jen Costanza from Michigan. Each of the farmers described the challenges they face with securing adequate workers to tend and harvest this year’s crops.

Duvall said the Labor Department too often fails to comply with rules that require it to respond to farmers’ requests before crews are needed.

“Crops can’t wait on paperwork,” Duvall said. “DOL is routinely failing to approve applications 30 days prior to the day farmers need workers. That delay, coupled with delays occurring at USCIS, places farmers in an impossible situation. We’ve heard from members who are already missing their window of opportunity to harvest. They are already facing lost revenue.”

Duvall repeated AFBF’s call for Congress to pass responsible immigration reform that provides farmers access to a legal and stable workforce. He also outlined possible solutions to the challenge, including modernizing agency H-2A approval procedures. He said DOL and USCIS both rely on sending documents to farmers by regular mail, which he called “unacceptable in 2016.”

Duvall said AFBF is also working with the Agriculture Department “to be an advocate for farmers and take whatever steps it can to ensure farmers get the workers they need to tend and harvest this year’s crops.”