Employees delivering a calf.
August 28, 2019

Looking for Mid-Level Dairy Managers?

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

Four years ago, Jon Huseth and Byron Ramirez saw the acute problem of hiring educated, well-qualified employees on dairy farms and other rural small businesses.

Huseth is a fourth-generation dairy farmer who milks 1,100 cows at his ClayView Dairy near Goodhue, Minn. Ramirez grew up in Guatemala, but came here at the age of 9. With contacts he has developed at universities across Mexico, he specializes in employee recruitment and placement.

In January, 2016, Huseth and Ramirez formed AgPathway LLC, and to date have placed high-skilled Mexican employees on more than 50 farms and other firms in the Midwest. To do so, they have relied primarily on the TN Visa Program, which is embedded in the North America Free Trade Agreement and the yet-to-be approved USMCA (U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement).

While not the perfect solution for all employees, the TN Visa Program does provide a route to recruit and hire educated, specialized employees from Mexico and Canada to work in U.S. firms, including farms, on a non-permanent basis. The TN Visas are work permits that run from one to three years, but can be easily renewed.

For dairy farms, TN Visa holders would likely be nutritionists and feeders, herdsmen and vet technicians, agronomists and mechanics. Wages for these workers will vary, depending on skill and language levels. “For a feeder, wages might start at $13 if the employer provides housing and transportation,” says Ramirez. “But they might be $20 to $25/hour for a mechanic specialist who can pull a tractor motor apart and put it back together again.”

One of AgPathways strengths is finding qualified employees in Mexico and carefully matching them with U.S. employers. To start that process, Ramirez travels to Mexico every two to three months and spends 15 days there going to universities across the country. “I usually interview 300 people on one of my visits, and from that, I’ll get 120 to 150 resumes,” he says. “That creates a bank of candidates that employers can screen.”

Ramirez in not looking for entry level employees, but mature individuals who have figured out what they’re going to do with their lives. “We then help them get to their goals,” he says.

Most candidates are in their late 20s or early 30s. In fact, AgPathways prefer individuals who want to bring their families here, adds Huseth. While their spouses cannot work under a TN Visa, employees will typically want to stay longer and be better employees if their families are here with them, he says.

On the employer side, recruiting and hiring is a long-term investment. So Ramirez meets with farms and other businesses looking for employees who will help their businesses grow. “Our first question we ask new clients is: ‘Where do you want your business to be in five years?’ And then, ‘What kind of employee do you need to get you there?’” says Ramirez.

Once the business’s mission and job description are fleshed out, Ramirez will then select two or three potential candidates from his pool who might fit the situation. Those candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

If there is a hire, AgPathways personnel often help facilitate the TN Visa process. For Mexican citizens coming to the United States to work, they must first fill out the TN Visa application at a Mexican embassy. The TN Visa is then granted by U.S. Customs officials as they enter the country.

AgPathways personnel meet the employee at the airport, bring them to the farm or business that hired them, and help with the onboarding process. “We also might help them get their Social Security number or get them to the Department of Motor Vehicles for their driver’s license,” says Huseth.

 All of this is to ensure both the employee and business hiring that person have a smooth process because of the investment involved.

Huseth says the TN Visa program is a viable way to legally bring qualified employees to the United States. Of his two dozen farm employees, about half are here on TN Visas.

For more on the TN Visa program, go to https://tnvisaexpert.com/overview/tn-visa-requirements/ and https://www.milkbusiness.com/article/have-you-considered-using-tn-visa-program.