Most ag producers will tell you their biggest challenge is a labor shortage. It’s been that way for years, and producers take on that pain directly and indirectly. But what about the long-term implications?
Roland Fumasi is the head of RaboResearch of Rabo AgriFinance North America. He says between an aging workforce and COVID causing many to retire, the next generation has more opportunities.
“Many of them were born here—they’re U.S. citizens,” he says. “They’ve got many, many more opportunities than their parents or grandparents. Keeping them on the farm is more and more challenging all the time.”
There are many reasons why these individuals are leaving the farm or won’t return. That causes producers to look at seasonal workers through H-2A. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House and needs Senate approval. Fumasi isn’t optimistic with its passage and what it would do longer term.
“We know they’ve been trying to do this for years and haven’t been able to get anything significant done,” says Fumasi. “The Workforce Modernization Act would at least give us a better supply of farm labor in the near-term. It also offers a path to legal status, which means that even if we were able to get something like this passed, it ends up being a shorter-term fix.”
He says another short-term fix will be the end of the eviction moratorium that ended in July.
“That process takes some time—that’s going to be a bit of a wake-up call for some of the workforce as they realize, ‘I have to be paying rent again,’” says Fumasi. “I’m hopeful that in the coming months, something like that is actually going to kick part of the workforce back into willingness to go out and start earning again.”
In the long-term, Fumasi says there needs to be ways to make the current workforce more efficient through a change in management practices or technology. He also suggests replacing labor where possible with technology.