Western Growers' Jonathan Sarager Discusses Current State of the Ag Labor Market
UNITED STATES - Jonathan Sarager is making a call to action. The Senior Director of Federal Government Affairs for Western Growers recently sat down with me to discuss the current state of the agricultural labor market. Though he outlines significant progress since the pandemic, he emphasizes a need for greater support at the government level.
“For a number of reasons, Congress needs to act to save the future of the produce industry in the United States,” he says. “There are still many skilled farmworkers who do not yet enjoy legal status although they have lived and worked in agriculture for years and sometimes decades—an uncertainty that distresses both workers and employers. Many growers have no choice but to utilize the expensive H-2A guestworker program, but this too needs drastic changes to allow the industry to be sustainable.”
Jonathan also outlined how produce suppliers can continue to support their workforce. He states that strong communication with employees will ensure challenges and opportunities for improvement are frequently addressed. Stories of high retention rates abound—a testament to the support the workforce and suppliers receive from each other.
Despite suppliers’ high success rates with employee retention, the challenges of the agricultural market remain.
“Across all sectors of agriculture, finding a sufficient number of workers has long been a challenging endeavor. The work is skillful and challenging and as such is not for everyone,” Jonathan explains. “In order to find enough workers, farmers and growers look to foreign guestworker programs to fulfill their labor needs. With the guestworker programs come their own challenges including a cumbersome process and ever-increasing costs.”
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these challenges. However, Jonathan tells me that during the height of the pandemic, the dedication of our industry’s workforce did not go unnoticed.
“As a silver lining, the COVID pandemic helped us all gain a better understanding of just how essential farmworkers are. Given the uncertainty we all faced during the height of the pandemic, all consumers grew to further appreciate the U.S. agriculture industry’s ability to continue to work to keep food on our tables,” Jonathan points out. “Farmworkers and their employers worked together quickly to develop and maintain protocols and procedures to ensure safe working environments to allow for a continued food supply from the hardworking industry. These experiences of pushing through adversity have further cemented the working relationships on farms and ranches.”
Jonathan sums it up perfectly. Though the last few years have presented unprecedented circumstances, the agriculture industry came out on the other side as strong as ever.
ANUK will continue to keep our eyes on the labor market, so keep coming back for exclusive reports.