No matter where you go these days, "Help Wanted" signs are posted everywhere. Some 22 million jobs were lost in the U.S. from COVID-19. Now, the unexpected speed of the nation's economic rebound has employers scrambling to fill jobs or acquire enough supplies to meet pent-up consumer demand.
For various reasons, job seekers are being more selective or continue to sit on the sidelines, forcing adjustments by food and agricultural businesses to their operations. These companies will turn even more to automation and robotics, a trend that was happening before the pandemic.
But, that's not an option for most farmers. A shortage of good help has always been a struggle for work that has to be done in the fields and livestock buildings.
Hiring competent employees to do general farm work, harvest specialty crops, tend to the daily needs of dairy cows, beef cattle, hogs and poultry has never been easy. It's a tough grind that doesn't conform to a Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.
Post-pandemic, finding farm employees for the 2021 season has only grown worse. Competition for a tight labor pool has driven up starting wages and has enhanced benefits and other perks that are difficult for farmers to match. Sure, growers can offer the chance to work in open spaces and fresh air, but it comes with a downside: no air-conditioning and long hours.
Frustrated farmers also lament that many local workers aren't interested in taking the jobs available. Many point to generational shifts -- few want to do manual labor.
Some farmers turn to foreign workers through the federal H-2A program that offers seasonal visas for agricultural laborers. But, it doesn't apply to farmers who need year-round help.
There are no easy answers to ag's growing labor crisis. But, a reliable workforce is crucial to the successful operation of America's farms and ranches.
What are you doing to recruit and retain seasonal and full-time employees? Send me an email (email@example.com) with your solutions as well as the challenges you face. Look for a series of stories on farm labor in the near future based on your responses.
-- Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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