by Courtney Llewellyn
Spring is a very busy time for farmers of all kinds, but especially those focused on growing crops. Land needs to be prepped and tilled; seeds need to be started; transplants need to be planted. With borders closed and travel essentially off-limits, many in the agricultural industry may see a shortage of seasonal workers this spring.
Unless they’re willing to look elsewhere – perhaps a little closer to home.
With restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and many retail outlets closed, farmers may consider looking to those who worked in the service industry as a new source of temporary labor.
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, hired farmworkers make up less than 1% of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but they play an essential role in U.S. agriculture. Hired farmworkers are found in a variety of occupations, including field crop workers, nursery workers, livestock workers, graders and sorters, agricultural inspectors, supervisors and hired farm managers. These hired farmworkers are employed in both urban and rural areas.
Michele Massey Stephan, a mother of three from rural Litchfield, NY, works full-time for a school system. That job supplies the health insurance for her family of five. Her husband owns his own construction company (which only has two employees). “His phone was ringing, and since this has occurred, not one call for work,” she said. With the schools closed as well, the couple is essentially out of work entirely.
She also worked part-time as a restaurant server. “My food service job is mostly for extras and is a supplement to our income. Not working those hours, we will absolutely feel the pinch,” she said. “My husband’s workload is now uncertain. My tips often paid for weekly groceries.”
Stephan said she’d be willing to step up and do farm labor this spring. “I’m not afraid of any type of work,” she said – even though she noted she has no farm experience outside of the chickens she keeps.
If farmers have work that doesn’t require a lot of training – and not a lot of person-to-person contact – service industry laborers out of work may be a solution.
How to get these workers to your farm, though? The first and easiest solution is posting about the need for workers to your social media accounts and farm website. Craigslist allows for free help wanted postings as well, and both of these would likely result in a more local workforce. If you need something more and industry-specific, your state’s Farm Bureau and associations would be helpful.