By Clint Thompson
With all of the expensive headaches that accompany the H-2A program, it still provides growers with a much-needed workforce they aren’t going to find anywhere else.
“I think at this particular juncture, people see it as the only game in town. No other viable option has presented itself,” said Veronica Nigh, economist with American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). “It’s not necessarily a program that works for all farmers for all different types of agriculture. It’s just the season labor market. Then we see these significant year-over-year increases in AEWR (Adverse Effect Wage Rate). That all makes it challenging.”
It was reported in 2021 that AEWR had increased by 20% in the last five years. Florida’s hourly rate is $12.08, while Georgia and Alabama are $11.81. That’s does not account for additional costs for housing and transportation. That contributes to labor being a factor that growers stress about the most.
“There’s a lot of concern about other input costs; fertilizer and gas and diesel, etc. I think with those issues folks realize that’s a short-term problem. We will have some resolution in fertilizer, hopefully, sooner rather than later. It isn’t going to be a forever problem,” Nigh said. “With labor, I don’t think anybody sees any hope in the horizon that we’re going to have a magical solution that’s going to solve that issue.
“Congress’ ability to agree on what a VISA program should look like for agriculture or for the economy at large, they have been unable to come up with anything that even remotely resembles a solution that could pass both Houses and get signed by the president. It’s an imperfect program for sure, but I think folks look at H-2A like, ‘Well what else is there?’”
There is no other option. A domestic workforce is challenging, if not impossible, to find. Growers depend on the H-2A program to provide dependable workers. Nigh said there has been more than a 20% increase in the number of applications in the H-2A program and a 17% increase in the number of positions requested. Those increases were just in the second quarter of this fiscal year compared to last year.
“Despite all of the hurdles and the challenges that we see with the H-2A program, folks are turning to it in droves because they don’t have any other option,” she added.