Government needs to do more for farm labor issues says ag groups
Specialty crop growers are searching for ways to stay in business as rising labor costs threaten their viability.
“These problems have been caused by government and only government can help fix them.”
Michigan Asparagus Marketing Advisory Board executive director Jamie Clover Adams tells Brownfield the true cost to farmers employing H-2A guest workers is about $28 per hour in the state when also accounting for housing and transportation.
“These workers work hard, and they earn what they make,” she says. “What can we do to keep growers in business until we can get to some kind of mechanization?”
She suggests more USDA resources and potential tax credits for farmworker housing as possible solutions.
“We could have a farm bill program that provides some kind of assistance to growers defraying their costs of labor,” she says. “We could do a formal program that deals with the seasonal and perishable issue and imports, or USDA could buy more U.S. products for their feeding programs.”
Great Lakes Ag Labor Services General Manager Sarah Black tells Brownfield the H-2A program itself also needs work.
Wage rates have increased more than 30 percent in the past five years for Michigan farms and Black says a freeze is needed until a better way to calculate compensation is determined.
“Or they need to cap the annual increases,” she says. “You can’t have a 13% increase one year and then 8% the next year and the wages everywhere else are going up four to six. It just doesn’t make any sense. And growers, they have no predictability.”
She says there are also processing improvements that could be made during the application process.
Brownfield interviewed both during the recent Michigan State University Farm Labor Conference.
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Author: Nicole Heslip