Dairy farms are not alone when it comes to a shortage of help. Problems associated with a limited workforce span across other sectors of agriculture and different industries. Stan Moore, a labor management expert and former educator with Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), joined MSUE educator Martin Mangual on the MSUE dairy team’s Virtual Coffee Break podcast and brought up three challenges dairy farmers face when it comes to finding local labor:

  1. The difficulty of the work
  2. The hours offered to employees
  3. The management structure found on farms

Moore shared that the number one way to get new employees is through word of mouth. Your employees need to enjoy working for you, and the culture on the farm needs to be positive for word of mouth to be effective in finding new employees. It is also important to remember the value of community involvement as a farm owner. Positive connections can come from local colleges and high schools, but it requires being active in the community to forge those relationships.

When local connections aren’t working to find labor, Moore and Mangual discussed three migrant worker visas that apply to dairy farms.

H-2A Visas are temporary agriculture worker visas and only apply to seasonal jobs. Harvesting, planting, and manure hauling could be examples of seasonal work. The farm applies for this visa and needs to prove they are unable to find U.S. workers for that job. Requirements for the employer include providing housing and transportation as well as paying the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). This typically works out to a total value of $25 to $30 per hour. A downside of this visa program is that for 50% of the time the visa worker is employed, their job posting needs to remain open. If someone applies for the job from the U.S. and is qualified, a farm is required to hire them.

TN Visas are offered to individuals who have specialized training and a degree specific to that training. Employers and employees work together for this visa. Employers need to show that the job requires a degree. The website for TN visas has job examples these could apply to. One example would be someone who manages animal health and treatments on the farm. An issue with this program is that the jobs it applies to are middle management jobs that are often recruited from within a dairy farm. This visa lasts three years but can be extended.

EB3 Visas apply to three categories: skilled work, requiring two years or more of training; professional work, requiring a higher degree; and unskilled work, where employees have less than two years of training. The U.S. prefers the first two categories, and those visas can be approved in around a year. For the unskilled category, visas can take several years to approve, and employers may be required to provide a Prevailing Wage, which can run up to $30 to $50 per hour.

Moore and Mangual recommended farmers work with an agricultural lawyer when exploring any employee visa programs.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
September 14, 2023

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