The ag labor crisis likely to only get tougher

An ag economist says foreign workers will only become more important for the ag sector moving forward.

Scott Swinton with Michigan State University tells Brownfield long term seasonal ag labor trends are problematic and likely to get worse, “Some people who would have entered the workforce are choosing not to enter the workforce and what that means is even though we’re back to low levels of unemployment, we have not seen growth in the number of people in the workforce,” he explains.

He points to a declining number of available workers, an aging population, competing entry level positions, and a declining number of undocumented workers as all contributing to labor shortages in agriculture which is why many employers have turned to the seasonal H-2A guest worker program, “The numbers there have tripped in the last eight years, and last year they went up by 40,000 workers,” he says.

The biggest users of the program include fruit, vegetable, and nursery and greenhouse sectors.  Swinton adds it’s extremely unlikely to see any intervention from Washington to remedy ag labor issues in the near-term.

For skilled workers, Swinton says labor needs aren’t as tight and wage increases are keeping pace with inflation.

Nicole Heslip is at the Michigan Agri-Business Association Winter Conference.

Nicole Heslip talks to Michigan State University’s Scott Swinton about ag labor

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