Different Town, Same Dilemma

In November, I along with my classmates had the privilege of visiting the Eastern Shore. I was excited to see something different.
I’m from the mountains in Fancy Gap, Virginia. The land and temperature variations between home and the Tidewater area were substantial, to be no farther apart then they are.
We had many stops along the way. Everyone we visited was knowledgeable, and seemed very happy that we were there.
As I listened to all of the different producers, I soon realized something. We may be on opposite sides of the state, and have completely different types of businesses, but we have a lot of the same struggles.
If you go to any sizable farm in my area today, and ask them what their concerns are, it wouldn’t take them long to bring up labor. I heard the same thing at the Eastern Shore.
You can work hard and get your crop grown, but if you cannot get it picked, that crop has no way to ever make it to the market. It’s the same way with cotton. You can get it picked, but if you do not have the labor to get it through the gin, you cannot market it.
It’s a tough deal. You need a lot of help for 4-5 months a year. Then your finished.
Most of the farms in this area of Virginia use the H2A program. This program allows U.S. employers to fill temporary agricultural jobs. It is a program that has both pros and cons.
The idea would be for the producer (farmer) to be able to get a dedicated and skilled workforce that is reliable. This comes at a high price. The producer is responsible for paying to get the laborers not only here, but back home as well. (usually Mexico) They are responsible for providing housing and transportation for the workers while they are here. On top of this, they pay a wage of nearly $10.00 per hour!
Even after all of this, most producers are quite willing to oblige, but there is a catch. The producer must first offer these job openings to the American public. I’m sure every American would at first quickly say this is how it should be, as jobs in America should be worked by Americans. Right? The problem goes deeper though. These are hard laborious jobs that quite honestly few Americans are willing to do. Those few American workers who would actually stick with such a job and do it well, are already employed at a full time job that works year round as opposed to 4-5 months out of the year.
There are many other problems that arise as you try to hire good workers while following such demanding regulations. Many farmers have workers who return each year from Mexico. The workers know the farm. They know the equipment. More importantly to any producer, they know the farmer and his family, and the farmer knows them.
If the producer can bring in a worker through the H2A program from another country, they are given a thorough background check, but if an American citizen meets basic qualifications the producer is required by law to hire them instead. Without any background knowledge at all!
Most farmers live on their farms, with the housing for their laborers there on the farm too. The laborers that they are required by law to provide housing for, are there living within a few yards of their families.
If you were a farmer with young children helping out on the farm, or maybe your children are just playing in the backyard while their mother cooks supper, would you want complete strangers living there with you? Would you want men you know nothing about watching your family’s daily routines and knowing the next move of your wife or child before they even make it?
Picture owning a farm and working day and night to grow your crops. Your wife and kids helping out all they can during this time. Then its time to gather, but you have to hire help. You want the same 10 men from Mexico that have helped you for the past 15 years. You know each of them by name. You know all about each of their families back home. They knew you before you even had your 4 children. Of course this is who you want to come and return to work this year. Only you are required by law to offer this job to the American public first. Have you thought about the fact that this also includes Puerto Rico?
So this year the SWA (state workforce agency) has found 10 men from Puerto Rico who are willing to do the job you have available. This does not mean they know how your farm works. This does not mean they are familiar with your equipment and this does not mean they have ever had a criminal background check!
They arrive at your farm ready to be housed, given transportation, work and be payed. They have nothing else to do for 4-5 months but be there with you and your family. Wouldn’t you rather choose your own workers?
The American population is nearing 319 million. Shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to make things easy for our farmers. Is proper attention really being payed to the source of our food?
I’m not claiming to have the labor solution, but I am saying we need to find a better one. A program that is more user friendly. A program that actually has the farmers best interest in mind. After all, America can survive without many things, but not for one day without the farmer.

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