Friday, April 28, 2017

A lack of American workers forcing farmers to spend more for H-2A program

A farm in Platteville, Colo.
(Tribune photo by Joshua Polson)
Agriculture producers are struggling to find American workers willing to put in long hard days of working on a farm for lower wages than other fields, such as oil, natural gas and construction, Samantha Fox reports for The Greeley Tribune in northern Colorado. That means many farmers are forced to spend more money to hire H-2A workers—non-immigrant workers who come to the U.S. for seasonal jobs—to fill the void.

One problem is that H-2A workers "cost more, require extensive paperwork and take a while to reach the fields," Fox writes. For example, Weld County, Colorado farmer Dave Petrocco said "he's spending about 25 percent more per year because of the H-2A program," but he said at least the participants are willing to do the work. Petrocco told Fox, "In my opinion, (H-2A) is a last-resort option to get seasonal farmworkers."

Another problem is that workers in the H-2A program are guaranteed pay—with a minimum of 40 working hours per week—regardless of crop yields or weather disasters that hurt producers. "Plus, the harder it is to get U.S. workers, accompanied with the obstacles H-2A presents, there's the question of how long producers can continue. The additional dollars spent on H-2A workers hurts that much more when low commodity trends come into play," Fox writes. Also, for dairy farmers, H-2A is not an option, because it's not seasonal work.

To combat workforce shortages some producers are switching to using genetically modified organisms in crops, because "it reduces the amount of workers needed," Fox writes. "That's why many organic farms are either small or have large staffs. But as many producers find, large staffs are hard to get and keep."

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