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January 2018, Volume 24, Number 1

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Iowa. High pork prices are encouraging some farmers to expand hog farms, and some construction firms are using H-2A workers to build confinement buildings. Alewelt and Mulford Concrete were certified to hire H-2A workers to construct livestock buildings for wages that were much lower than those usually paid to construction workers, drawing complaints from unions.

Mexican H-2A workers employed by Alewelt and Mulford said they earned $150 a day in Iowa, three times the going wage paid to construction workers in Mexico.

Wisconsin. Wisconsin has fewer and larger dairies milking the same number of cows, increasing their dependence on hired workers; some 9,500 in 2017 with 1.3 million cows. The most readily available workers are unauthorized Mexicans, many of whom migrated to fill seasonal farm jobs in the past and have now settled.

New York. The New York Times profiled Indian Ladder Farms on December 27, 2017, a 300-acre fruit farm near Albany that hires a peak 100 Jamaican H-2A and local workers for its farm and retail store selling apple products, to examine excessive regulation. The apple packinghouse has clipboards to monitor everything from visitors to injuries, and binders with regulations governing farm labor protections and food safety standards.

The story noted 17 federal regulations with 5,000 restrictions and rules relevant to orchards, and emphasized President Trump's plans to reduce regulation by delaying 700 planned federal rules and requiring federal agencies to eliminate two old regulations for every new one they promulgate. Indian Ladder believes it was targeted by DOL for inspection because it hires H-2A workers.

Indian Ladder says that produce buyers impose more regulations, especially Whole Foods, which requires a food-safety plan that was developed with the help of consultants. Farmers keep logs to demonstrate compliance, and auditors check these logs when visiting to observe worker hygiene and other aspects of the operation.

Under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA will check farms to ensure that similar federal regulations are being followed. Some farmers fear FDA inspections because they may result in fines rather than time to correct deficiencies. Others believe that increased regulation is likely to accelerate trends toward fewer and larger producers who can spread compliance costs over more production.

Idaho. H-2A workers employed by Flying H farms reported earning $26,000 over 10 months moving irrigation pipe and doing other farm tasks in 48-hour weeks.

The Caldwell Housing Authority in the southwestern part of the state allows H-2A workers to live in its 225-unit Farmway Village public housing complex; over 200 H-2A workers are expected to be housed in 35 units. Some farmers rent Farmway Village units year-round in order to have housing for seasonal H-2A workers.

The dairy industry expanded in Magic Valley in south central Idaho, attracting migrants to the six-county area with 170,000 residents. Idaho is the third largest dairy state, and the Magic Valley had 80 percent of Idaho's 512,000 dairy cows in 2012. Magic Valley dairies employ about 5,000 workers, or one worker for each 80 cows. Chobani has a million square-foot plant in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Half of the workers on large dairy farms are milkers who work six-day weeks for eight to 10 hours a day. Wages range from $11-$12 an hour for feeders to $12-$14 an hour for milkers and $15-$16 for herdsmen, or $500 to $700 a week. Benefits vary, with some farmers providing housing while others do not. Some farmers say that robotic milkers become attractive when milking wages reach $14 an hour.

Oregon. About 27 million Christmas trees were purchased in 2016. Oregon produces more Christmas trees than any other state, followed by North Carolina and Michigan. Christmas tree farming is shrinking because of overplanting about 2000 that led to low prices during and after the 2008-09 recession and the availability of more profitable crops.

Washington. About 100 H-2A workers employed by Keith Larson went on strike in September 2017 after three were fired and returned to Mexico for not picking fast enough. The workers complained that their supervisor was abusive; Larson Fruit settled the six-day strike by changing supervisors.

WAFLA, which brought 10,000 or two-thirds of the H-2A workers to 200 Washington farmers in 2017, said that there are issues with supervisors on some farms who expect very high worker productivity to offset the higher costs of recruitment, transportation and housing associated with the H-2A workers.

WAFLA reported 18,500 H-2A visas approved in 2017, including 7,100 for which WAFLA was a joint employer and another 5,000 for which WAFLA provided support with recruitment and transportation, which cost an average $1,300 per worker. WAFLA predicts 20,000 H-2A workers in Washington in 2018 each earning $30,000 or a total $600 million.

Washington had 1,500 commercial apple producers in 2017, down from 4,000 in 2000.

Yakima-area growers reported tight labor supplies in Fall 2017. Median hourly earnings were $13 for workers earning $20 to $28 per 1,000-pound bin of apples picked, with most pickers harvesting five to seven bins a day. There are 100,000 farm workers in Washington, including an eighth who are H-2A workers.

Hawaii. Commercial sugar and pineapple production ended in 2016, and today the major use of Hawaii's agricultural land is for seed corn. In 1980, 14 sugar and four pineapple farms farmed 300,000 acres; in 2017, there are fewer than 5,000 acres of sugar and pineapples.

Hawaii has 1.4 million residents and receives nine million visitors a year. Over 90 percent of the food consumed in Hawaii is imported, but a fledgling back-to-the land movement is trying to reduce food imports.