By Gary Joiner
There’s a labor shortage on America’s farms.
Many growers who need workers to plant, tend and harvest crops can’t find local residents to fill the jobs. They’re simply not interested. Maybe the work is too hard? Too demanding? Or it could be the stigma associated with farm work. The are other options that are easier for most.
So farmers in Texas and across the country turn to foreign farmworkers. It’s called the H-2A program. It provides access to a stable and legal workforce when the program works properly.
But this year, the program isn’t working well. H-2A processing and visa delays are costing farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business. Bureaucratic paperwork keeps piling up. And agriculture’s headache keeps growing.
This isn’t a small problem. Last year, U.S. growers requested more than 145,000 workers. About 10 percent of farm jobs are estimated to be filled by H-2A labor. And right now is a period of peak demand for H-2A workers.
Federal officials announced this week a new online approval platform that should expedite H-2A processing. Let’s hope so. Because visa approval delays have gone on far too long. Crops are rotting on the vine, in the tree and in the fields. Delays of 30 days or more are causing worker shortages in Texas and in more than 20 other states.
It’s good H-2A processing has entered the 21st Century with new digital elements. Local labor’s unwillingness to work on a nearby farm—that’s a reality that’s not changing anytime soon.