Due to a lack of domestic farm workers in the United States, many growers use the H-2A program for their labor needs. So says Fritz Roka, University of Florida associate professor of agriculture economics at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.
Vegetable and specialty crops are labor intensive crops, which causes a lot of concern for growers when there is uncertainty over their labor supply.
The H-2A program is a guest-worker program that allows people from other countries to come to worksites in the United States as temporary, seasonal agricultural employees.
According to Roka, there is fear among many immigrants working in farm labor due to the uncertainty with the current immigration policies of the United States government.
Roka says the H-2A program is becoming more prominent with growers who produce fruit and berries. “The vegetable side is a mixed deal,” he says. “I’ve heard some major vegetable outfits are using the guest worker program. Others are not, and a lot of that depends on the location.”
From Roka’s perspective, vegetable growers in Immokalee did not have a shortage of domestic labor this season, and therefore did not have a need to move to the H-2A program.
Some growers are moving into the H-2A program due to the anticipation of labor issues in the near future, Roka says. Specifically, some blueberry and strawberry growers are becoming involved in the H-2A program.
Bob Morrissey, executive director of the National Watermelon Association, says labor is a tremendous expense for the watermelon industry. He believes the industry needs help from the government to amend issues with labor.
During the 2018 Farm Bill listening session held in Gainesville, Florida, on June 24, labor supply and H-2A were hot topics among many growers. A full recording of the listening session can be found here.
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