July 19, 2018

Farmers Look to H-2A, Veterans During Labor Shortage

 |  By: Amber Damon

For years, labor has been a major issue on farms throughout the country. Farmers are looking to new outlets to find employees and alleviate the shortage.

Joe Del Bosque, farmer who grows cantaloupe, cherries, almonds and other fruits and vegetables in California, says the labor shortage combined with the heat is taking a toll on his workers. In California, temperatures have consistently been in the triple digits. 

“These people are used to working in hot weather,” Del Bosque told AgriTalk host Chip Flory on Wednesday’s Farmer Forum. “But when you’ve been doing that for 10 days straight, it starts to wear on you.” 

Ideally, Del Bosque and his employees would be out of the field before 3:00 p.m., in time to avoid the heat. Because additional labor isn’t available, that hasn’t been possible. Some farmers in his area are going to the H-2A program to search for employees. 

“The farmers I talked to are pretty happy with that, so that’s something we might do in the future,” Del Bosque said. “But, you have to have housing and transportation for them and that’s a new facet of your farm you have to have.”

Along with transportation and housing, H-2A workers earn the adverse effect wage, which is above minimum wage, totaling to be a big investment for farmers.

“The one good thing that I’m hearing from the folks around here is that they’re good workers. They’re very productive,” said Del Bosque. “But you have to pay them to keep them.”

Ben Riensche from Iowa agreed, “Good help is available, it just costs.” 

However, the health insurance reform worries Riensche. 

“If we don’t have reprise from this reset in grain prices then were going to have to have a reset on everything,” he said.

If you’re close to a military base, more labor may be available. Quint Pottinger of Kentucky is located close to Fort Knox and says being close to fort has been beneficial for them. 

“We’ve been real lucky finding some retiring veterans looking for something to do.” Pottinger says. “They’re part time, so we can actually hire part time help and they’re good help. They show up every day and they’re not asking for a lot of money and don’t need health insurance.”