Agriculture labor shortages not just a Mid-South problem

The problem of finding quality farm labor is a frequent complaint among Mid-South producers. A common refrain goes something like this: “I’d love to have a great pool of workers from around here to pull from. That pool just isn’t there. The good workers are already employed on another farm and aren’t going anywhere.”

I can’t help but imagine a farmer at his shop desk brooding over this state of affairs. Then, he sighs and reaches for the phone, dialing a placement service for overseas farm workers seeking employment.

Romanians and South Africans seem to be the countries of origin for most of these type workers in east Arkansas. A producer I spoke with recently has been hiring South Africans for several years. “There’s not much drama. They just want to work as much as possible, make as much money as fast as possible, while they’re away from home. And that’s what we need: someone willing to work hard. That’s it.”

The farmer said, before putting their young men on a plane, the parents of the South Africans are insistent about a couple of things. First, accommodations must be adequate. Second, an internet hookup must be available so they can Skype.

This isn’t just a problem for the Mid-South. It turns out a farm labor shortage is also a big problem in the UK. With the holiday season rush set to start, “the National Farmers Union called on the government to introduce new measures to prevent a shortfall in agricultural workers next year,” says a report by The Guardian.

The Brexit vote and the falling value of the pound are getting fair shares of blame for the labor gap, the worst in over a decade.

“We’re already experiencing a shortfall in (European Union) workers resulting from long-term declines and exacerbated by the (Brexit) referendum outcome,” said NFU horticulture board chair Ali Capper. While the British government understands the labor needs, “without basic assurances from government that this labor will be accessible in future, grower businesses face huge uncertainty and are delaying investment in British production.”

In the UK, says the report, “Horticulture alone needs around 80,000 seasonal workers to pick and pack fruit, vegetable and plant crops across the country.”

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