Labor Remains Difficult Issue for Farmers and Ranchers

News / Newsline May 31, 2022

Credit: Mark Stebnicki, North Carolina Farm Bureau; used with permission.  

American farmers and ranchers continue to struggle with finding enough workers for their operations. Chad Smith has more on why agriculture has a difficult time finding employees.

Smith: New data confirms the serious shortage of adequate labor across most sectors of U.S. agriculture. Veronica Nigh, senior economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, says farmers have talked for at least a decade about a tight farm labor market.

Nigh: The recent H-2A data certainly proves that out. In the second quarter of the fiscal year 2022, which is January through March, the number of applications for H-2A workers, which is the temporary ag worker visa program increased by more than 17 percent, year over year. The number of certified positions increased even more: it was up by 21 percent.

Smith: One of the reasons the labor market is so tight is that the unemployment rate in rural America is often lower than the rest of the economy.

Nigh: For example, the state of Nebraska has a current unemployment rate of 1.9 percent, so those farmers who are already having trouble getting workers out to their farms for long hours and hot weather and oftentimes difficult work, are finding it even more difficult because of an already-tight labor market.

Smith: The labor shortage has been going on for a long time. However, recent data shows that the issue is spreading further than farms and ranches.

Nigh: In the past, it was maybe more of a production ag problem, you know, on the farm, but over time, it's gotten worse and spread throughout the supply chain. So, trucking companies are having trouble finding workers, ag processors are having trouble finding workers, and rural areas, at large, are struggling to find workers. So, certainly, it's been an issue in agriculture for a long time, but it certainly seems to be compounding and growing as time continues.

Smith: Chad Smith, Washington.

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