August 2019

Farm Labor Reform… who has the answer?!

Recently, I nearly lost a skilled-labor employee to a competitor farm operation, over an additional twenty-five cent per hour wage increase.  Yep, you read correctly.  This individual was prepared to leave a job he’d worked at for two years, for only twenty-five cents per hour.  I offered him a safe working environment, consistent and stable work hours (some overtime), new to slightly used tractors with cabs and fair pay (so I thought). This forced me to ask myself, am I paying my employees enough? Do my employees care about a safe a working environment, or about tractors with cabs, do these things matter?

No matter the benefits I provide my employees, they are, and always will be susceptible to higher paying employers, because money matters.  I get it, I understand.   This was the narrative yesterday, it is the narrative today and will be the narrative tomorrow.  On the flip-side, would I offer a new tractor driver twenty-five cents per hour more? Yes!  Would I offer that same person a dollar more, if it ensures I get through the harvest season with enough labor to keep the operation charging forward?  In a heartbeat!  Same goes for mechanics, harvest equipment operators, etc.  We’re all swimming in the same pool.

Farmers and ranchers have long experienced difficulty in obtaining workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields.  Jobs in agriculture are physically demanding, conducted in all seasons and are often transitory.  To most U.S. residents seeking employment, these conditions are not attractive.  A number of studies document this fact, and farm worker representatives have acknowledged this reality in congressional testimony.  Yet, for many prospective workers from other countries, these jobs present real economic opportunities. (source: American Farm Bureau)

Reforms to the immigration system can ensure that American agriculture has a legal, stable supply of workers, both in the short- and long-term, for all types of agriculture. This requires a legislative solution that deals with the current unauthorized and experienced agricultural workforce and ensures that future needs are met through a program that will admit a sufficient number of willing and able workers in a timely manner. Past legislative proposals (e.g., AgJOBS, HARVEST Act, BARN Act and other bills) have attempted to reform the H-2A program to ensure a future workforce in agriculture. However, it is apparent that those proposals are no longer viable to meet agriculture’s needs. (source: American Farm Bureau).

If you are reading this and have the solution to our ag labor woes, please call me, I’d like to hear it!

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