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Labor issues + coronavirus mean more challenges for harvesters

An ag group leader says it’s not only hard to find enough Americans to work certain farm-related jobs, it’s also hard to bring in foreign workers. Mandi Sieren with U.S. Custom Harvesters says, “Physically getting them here without commercial flights is the tricky part.”

Sieren tells Brownfield the Department of Labor has strict regulations, which have gotten stricter since the start of COVID-19.  She says between 30% and 40% of their membership hires H-2A workers. 

President Glen Jantzen tells Brownfield some harvest crews have had to work harder to find labor as the wheat and forage harvests began, but he’s more concerned about the labor situation later in the summer. “A little later in the year, it could get better, it could get worse. As people’s unemployment runs out, they might be more interested in looking for something. As high school kids or family that has to go back to school or work, that could make some difference.”

Sieren says states closing their Department of Motor Vehicles is a huge problem. “If there’s no DMV open when we do get an employee, we can’t get them a CDL (license), so now, what do we do?”

She says without the ability to get CDL licenses, it is hard to transport crops to the elevator and harvesting machinery from farm to farm and state to state.

Sieren says the companies that usually have overseas workers are also looking for more American workers, which is further thinning out the pool of applicants.  “For a young guy with no girlfriend, no kids, it’s probably pretty easy if he’s willing to do the work, but you know, older and you have his girlfriend, wife, kids, boyfriend, whatever, female, male, it’s just hard to get them to leave home and do that hard work.”

Sieren says there are also reports of people not wanting to return to work because of extended unemployment paying better than jobs. 

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