LANSING — Despite wet weather that created planting delays, Michigan farmers in 2019 are still one of the largest users of the H-2A temporary agricultural labor certification program, ranked eighth in the country.
That’s according to third-quarter data released this week by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification. It revealed Michigan garners 3.2% of the nation’s total certified visas or 6,567 visas, as of June 30.
The numbers are expanding because farmers need labor — and they need it now, said Bob Boehm, general manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services LLC (GLALS), an affiliate company of Michigan Farm Bureau that acts as an agent helping employers complete the H-2A application process for temporary or seasonal labor.
Data provided to Michigan Farm News indicate GLALS now has 57 clients, up from 10 in 2015, and facilitated the arrival of 1,700 workers.
A shift to guest-worker programs like H-2A signal a critical movement in thinking for many Michigan farmers who once relied on domestic workers to fulfill a wide range of job roles on farms.
“We have seen a shift in the use of H-2A workers from only harvest jobs to now planting, pruning and other seasonal jobs on specialty crop farms, as well as dairy and row crop operations as farmers struggle to maintain an adequate domestic workforce in this tight overall labor market,” Boehm said.
Now, according to Boehm, more and more of those roles are being filled by H-2A workers.
Nationally, the Foreign Labor reports more farmers are also using the H-2A program, which legally brings agricultural labor to the U.S. for temporary, seasonal agricultural jobs. Year-to-year data show the Department of Labor received 11,503 applications representing 206,540 certified positions in 2019, up from 10,320 applications and 193,401 positions in the same period of 2018.
Some of the top commodities using H-2A include berries (20,539), fruits and vegetables (10,957), corn (9,061) and apples (6,428). Certified position for general farm workers totaled 25,556.
“While the number is still growing, it was up only 2% from (quarter three of 2018), which is the slowest rate of growth we’ve seen in over five years,” Veronica Nigh, economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, wrote in an email to Michigan Farm News. “I think that slow growth is probably attributable to the wet weather/hurricanes/growing conditions overall. The growth would have probably been greater if it hadn’t been for the conditions.”
According to Nigh, the “underlying demand for labor is certainly sustainable.”
“With an increase in workforce enforcement of late, the tight farm labor market we’ve seen over the last several years (especially for the seasonal workers needed for specialty crops) should constrict even further,” she said.
“Just one person’s humble opinion, but I wouldn’t expect to see a slow down in H-2A requests any time soon.”