Thursday, October 06, 2011

Farmers say local harvest workers hard to find

Farmers are having trouble finding willing Americans to help harvest on their farms through the agricultural visa program known as H-2A. The program allows workers from Mexico to enter the country seasonally to work and fill the gaps made because Americans who are willing to work on a farm are hard to find.

Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports that the minimum wage in the program has risen to $10.50 an hour and because of that and the stagnant economy farmers can't afford to bring in enough people from Mexico to harvest. Some, like Colorado corn and onion farmer John Harold, thought they'd hire locals. However, he told Johnson that after six hours work in one day, most of the locals quit. Some left during lunch and never came back, others claimed the "work was too hard."

The H-2A program was designed to encourage farmers to hire locals as a way to avoid displacing them, and requires them to advertise their job openings in three states. Johnson reports this places great risk on farmers who have to guess the proper local-to-foreign worker ratio with their whole season's revenue at stake. Most think the program needs to be reconsidered to address this issue, including Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who supports a bill that would increase the number of guest workers admitted to the country every year.

Farmers are also faced with the problem of workers leaving if they find a job that pays better, some say, because working on a farm full-time but only for a season is a lot to ask. In 2009, 60,000 foreign workers were admitted to the country; last year, that number dropped to 56,000. (Read more)

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