Finding enough workers to get fields planted and crops harvested is one of the biggest challenges many farmers face from season to season.
Often farmers turn to the federal H-2A Temporary Agricultural Employment of Foreign Workers program to bring in laborers from other countries who have the skills necessary to get jobs done on the farm when local workers cannot be found.
These workers generally are at a farm for several months then return to their home countries, hence the common reference to “seasonal guest workers.”
While the program has proved invaluable to many farmers across the state and the country, it is often a process that involves a good deal of paperwork and bureaucracy. It is a gigantic undertaking that involves not only meeting U.S Department of Labor requirements for exhausting all efforts to recruit domestic workers, but also recruiting the right foreign guest workers, making and paying for transportation arrangements, housing, wages and more for the laborers while they are working at the farm.
Resource for farmers
To assist farmers potentially in need of H-2A workers, Ohio Farm Bureau has partnered with Great Lakes Ag Labor Services in Michigan to provide a trusted resource to turn to for farmers who potentially are in need of these workers. An independent affiliate of the Michigan Farm Bureau, GLALS was launched in 2015 in response to member requests for assistance with their seasonal labor needs.
After finding success with an all-encompassing approach of “wrapping ourselves around the grower,” the business is launching its services in Ohio and Indiana this fall, said Sarah Black, GLALS interim general manager and director of business operations at Michigan Farm Bureau.
“There is not an easy solution for ag labor, and it isn’t getting any easier,” Black said. “Agriculture in Michigan and Ohio is very similar with specialty commodities and the need for seasonal labor. This is a very complicated business, and yet very much needed by our members. We have figured out how to do it successfully with our services and thought farmers in our neighboring states could benefit from them.”
Starting the process
The first step is to make sure the farmer and the company are a good fit to work together. There are a lot of things to consider in regard to the H-2A program. GLALS conducts a legal and management review at the farm so producers know exactly what they are getting into — from housing to human resources paperwork. The services offered by GLALS are only available to Farm Bureau members in good standing.
“We want our growers to go into the process with their eyes wide open,” Black said.
Once a decision is made to move ahead, GLALS gets to work. The company recruits the workers based on expertise, making sure they have transportation from their home countries to the farm and back again at the end of the season. The GLALS team has several bilingual staff fluent in Spanish. A GLALS labor program coordinator works directly with farmers and workers. Upon workers’ arrival at the farm, GLALS provides an in-depth orientation for them, highlighting what they need to know while living in the U.S. and working at the farm, what’s needed to comply with GAP rules and Worker Protection Safety guidelines, rules in the U.S. for driving etc. and even specific farm tasks and expectations.
The company helps with domestic recruitment efforts and conducts interviews with local job applicants as well, Black said.
Legal advice about H-2A is a separate contract, however. Ohio Farm Bureau can offer a list of potential legal resources versed in the H-2A program for members, according to John Marihugh, OFBF senior director of partnerships and member services.
“Partnering with an H-2A labor provider is something we’ve been exploring for a number of years, and we are now very pleased to team with Great Lakes Ag Labor Services,” Marihugh said. “I really like the fact that they are part of the Farm Bureau family and they understand the needs of membership organizations. They’ve been working really hard at perfecting their business model while keeping the needs of producers front and center. This is exactly what we want to provide for our Ohio producers as well.”
Crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s so producers can keep their focus on their farm’s success is what GLALS does best, according to Black.
“Our portfolio of services is much broader than most H-2A providers, and that’s because in the end, our goal is for the grower to be successful. We didn’t jump into this business just to make money. Farm Bureau’s purpose has always been to serve the farmer, and that’s exactly what GLALS strives to provide our members.”
Great Lakes Ag Labor Services is hosting two seminars online to familiarize Ohio farmers with the company’s H-2A services. The one-hour seminars are scheduled for 8 a.m. Oct. 27 and noon Nov. 12. Learn more and register