Clements: U.S. farmers and ranchers still need record numbers of guest workers, even though the number of position requests increased just two percent this year, compared to a 29 percent increase in 2018, according to data from the Labor Department. American Farm Bureau Federation Economist Veronica Nigh says there are two potential causes.
Nigh: One is that we’ve reached maturity on the number of foreign employees that we think we need for predominantly picking fruits and vegetables in the United States. Or, as we kind of look at the data to see what’s more likely, that the slowdown is because there’s been challenges in the production in fruits and vegetables in a few states across the U.S., which has really pulled that growth potential down.
Clements: Georgia farmers are the top users of the H-2A program. However, Nigh says weather has impacted agricultural production and its labor needs in the state.
Nigh: We all know that Georgia has had a challenging last 12 months or so with a pretty significant hurricane having an impact in that state. And so, when we looked at the data that just came out, we do in fact see a dip in the number of positions requested by that state. I think that’s a good example of the type of production challenges that we’re talking about and what we’re thinking is going on in a number of states.
Clements: Nigh says the data over the next few years will confirm what’s behind the slow H-2A program growth rate in 2019.
Nigh: Is it what we think? Is it just that we’ve had a rough production year and that’s slowed the growth in the program? Or, indeed have we reached maturity on the program? And we won’t know that until we’ve seen a few more years of data. Right now, we’re just going to have to sit and wait, which is usually the hardest part.
Clements: More on this analysis can be found at fb.org/marketintel. Micheal Clements, Washington.