Nebraska’s rural areas losing population worsens labor shortage issue

A shrinking rural population is worsening the ag labor shortage.

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows 56 percent of Nebraska’s population now lives in three of the state’s largest counties, leaving less people in rural areas to fill open jobs.

Nebraska Pork Producers Association Executive Director Al Juhnke says the population shift creates a gap that could be fixed with the H2A visa program.

But, he tells Brownfield, “We’re trying to get that changed to year-round workers and limited number,” Juhnke says. “When we do need help, we can recruit from other countries to bring them in to work legally with a visa.”

He says changes to the program would help an older ag workforce since young people are leaving the farm. “It’s great if you’re hoeing beats in a sugar beet field seasonally, but I need someone in my barn to manage my sow herd year-round,” he says. “I want to recruit someone from an ag school in Mexico than come up here on a H2A visa and stay here for a number of years and work.”

Census data showed that only 24 of Nebraska’s 93 counties saw growth in the last decade.

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