H-2A hikes putting specialty crop production at risk

A dramatic increase in labor costs has changed what specialty crops are being grown in one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the country. 

Great Lakes Ag Labor Services General Manager Sarah Black tells Brownfield continued increases in H-2A guest worker wages have been too much for many growers to absorb.

“This year we’ve seen some of our vegetable guys, some of our diverse farms, stop growing vegetables because the margin is so tight and they can’t absorb a 10 to 20 percent increase on their labor costs when their margin is pennies on the crops they grow.”

Michigan Asparagus Marketing Advisory Board executive director Jamie Clover Adams says those increases, along with the additional costs farmers pay to participate, are not sustainable.

“A nurse or a social worker takes a college education and two to five years’ worth of experience to make what an H-2A worker makes,” she says.

Vegetable grower Russell Costanza tells Brownfield the cost squeeze is to the point he’s encouraging his kids to get out of the business.

“Also, what’s increased is our interest rates for operating money, we went from 3 to 8 percent,” he shares.  “All this is adding up to a point of no return for us to continue growing food, we’re going to have to quit.”

Costanza says he did not make a profit this year and doesn’t know what the farm will do next year. 

Brownfield conducted interviews during the Michigan State University Farm Labor Conference.

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