Foreign workers becoming larger part of US agriculture

Midwest

(NewsNation) — A nationwide labor shortage means some farmers are looking for alternative ways to find employees.

Labor shortages in the agriculture industry have been a problem for a number of years. According to AgAmerica Lending, there was a 73% decline in self-employed and family farmworkers from 1950 to 2000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of agricultural workers to increase just 1% from 2019 to 2020, the Associated Press reports.

To combat this, some farmers are using government programs to bring in foreign workers.

Tom Witten, a main greenhouse grower for Witten Farm Market near Columbus, Ohio, said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America” that in his short time running the family farm, having a reliable, steady workforce has been absolutely essential.

Back when he was in high school, Witten’s father only hired locals, and they employed a lot of high school kids.

“But a lot of those kids have other things going on,” Witten pointed out. “There’s a lot of good kids out there, but they don’t have the time, or they don’t want the conditions of working in the fields any longer.”

Witten is part of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, which allows agricultural employers anticipating a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. for temporary or seasonal work. The workers brought through this program aren’t immigrants, though, but guest workers, so they return to their home country every year, Witten explained.

“They work here for about four to five months,” he said.

While the program is costly and can involve a lot of paperwork, Witten says he has enjoyed being a part of it, and sees it as a way to stem some of the flow from the southern border, as it gives people a way to earn money in the U.S. legally.

“They want to work their butt off. It doesn’t bother them, the hot sun,” Witten said. “Honestly, working with these guys is one of the highlights of my job, because they are people that want better lives for their kids. They’re doing it the right way, and we want to be a part of that solution, rather than just complaining about it.”

Witten said the job has changed over the years.

“That very core job of the harvest is now, you have to speak Spanish to be a fruit and vegetable farmer,” Witten said.

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