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Slim pickings for migrant labor

September 8, 2014

Michigan is still struggling with a major farm labor shortage, those in the agricultural community told a state commission on July 22. Farm owners were devastated in the spring of 2012 early when a hot March was followed by frosts, decimating the state’s cherry and apple crops and pushing many laborers to find work elsewhere. Since then, many fruits and vegetables across the state
 have literally rotted in the fields because of the worker shortage. Now, people are scrambling to streamline the process, said Mike DiBERNARDO, economic development specialist for MDARD at a state Agriculture Committee meeting this morning.  

The state is allowing workers to contact a state advocate worker for a phone interview directly now. Then Michigan Works is supposed to connect them with a farm that needs help. Before that shift, they may not have been able to work at certain farms if it was in a different county or state.

For example, if a harvest is in Monroe County but more laborers are needed in Allegan instead, that wasn’t always communicated before, making it tough for workers and employers to be united. Craig ANDERSON, an expert with the Michigan Farm Bureau, said that makes it tough to find the needed help after many workers found lasting jobs elsewhere, post-2012.  

“We are under a set of rules that no other employee or employer faces,” Anderson said. “So that makes it challenging.”  The state has also been airing radio advertisements in Florida and elsewhere to let workers know farmers need workers.  But given the unpredictable nature of the weather on crops and the stringent requirements of the visa programs, advocates like Anderson say what’s 
really needed is massive immigration reform.  Those in the agricultural community and elsewhere have been pushing for that for years. DiBernardo also stressed this morning that these new state program shifts are only a temporary fix. “It’s not a long-term solution at all,” he said. “I do want to stress that.”  

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