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Michigan Farm Bureau investigates ag labor shortage

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The Michigan Farm Bureau is hoping a survey they are conducting will help address the reasons why a labor shortage continues to plague farms across the state.

“Farmers often note availability as their number one labor concern, which is problematic for all farmers, but particularly for Michigan’s specialty crop sector which has peak seasonal labor demands,” said Bob Boehm, General Manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services, (GLALS).

According to Boehm, despite member-approved policy calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the status of undocumented agricultural workers and develop a workable guest worker program for agriculture, a near-term legislative solution appears doubtful.

Labor woes for Michigan fruit producers were compounded in 2012, when an early spring freeze decimated the state’s western fruit belt, resulting in significant crop losses and the displacement of seasonal workers, who were forced to find work elsewhere. Many of those workers didn’t necessarily return to the state in following years.

Boehm says the acute shortage of workers led Michigan Farm Bureau to establish GLALS in 2015, with the sole mission of assisting farmers in navigating a complex federal H-2A foreign worker visa program to secure a stable, legal, and qualified workforce.

“GLALS continues to grow and has been successful in meeting the needs of some specialty-crop farmers for temporary, seasonal workers, but we’re also hearing similar frustrations from our dairy industry as well,” said Boehm, adding that the current H-2A program cannot be used for year-round jobs.

According to Boehm, responses to the labor survey are confidential, and will be used collectively to identify additional specific agricultural labor needs and solutions.

“We hope the survey responses will leverage and motivate Congressional action on immigration reform, as well as provide additional insight on how Michigan Farm Bureau can assist our farm members in other respects, such as regulatory compliance, training, and worker safety,” he said.

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