Farm Labor Shortage on Pork Farms Threatening to Cap Production
U.S. pork producers have been fighting challenges like low prices and the threat of foreign animal diseases for years. However, there’s another problem that producers face: getting enough labor to keep their operations running smoothly. Dave Preisler is CEO of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. The number one challenge they hear about from producers is not enough hired help.
“It’s very serious – it’s probably the number one thing that pork producers bring up as a concern. Now obviously, it ranges from farm to farm, but it is the number one thing that we hear from folks out there, and that’s followed closely by preparation for foreign animal disease because of some of the things that are going on around the globe with the African Swine Fever. First and foremost, it just puts more stress on the other workers or the owners of the farm because they’re having to put in additional hours, or effort or that sort of thing just to kind of cover for how much they may be short. It can even get to the point where it hurts production if you’re really short of folks.”
The process of finding enough help is extensive and expensive, as well as exhausting.
“It certainly takes a lot of time and effort on behalf of farm owners to find employees, and then also to get them trained up. That’s a big investment in time, which means money if you’re training up new employees too.”
Preisler is quick to say that the problem isn’t unique to hog farmers. Finding labor is a challenge across agriculture. If the labor shortage goes on long enough, it will put a cap on the amount of food production and limit rural America’s chances at a strong economy.
“Without adequate labor, you put a cap on economic development, and that doesn’t make any difference if it’s a farm or another business that’s in that rural community, you put a cap on that rural economic development. And that results in less tax revenue, it results in fewer kids that may be in a school district, all of that too starts to really kind of feed on itself, unfortunately, and so that’s why we do have folks that are looking more at foreign labor, in many cases doing it pretty successfully. It is not the cheapest route, so nobody does it to save money. It is not cheaper labor when we look at bringing in folks on various visas.”
National and state pork associations are working to improve the visa program to make it an easier process to find available labor.
“We’re looking at our work visas. We’re not asking for citizenship or that sort of thing because that brings its own set of political challenges to it. And we’re just looking for work visas, so they would not be on a path to citizenship; that’s its own completely separate conversation. We’d like to see people that are here legally, and a work visa is one way to do that. Plus, not everyone that comes to this country to work really wants to be a citizen. They’re coming here for opportunity financially, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to live here.”