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Reliance on H-2A Workers Continues to Spike as Specialty Crop Producers Face Labor Shortages

Reliance on H-2A Workers Continues to Spike as Specialty Crop Producers Face Labor Shortages

Access to farm labor continues to be a significant challenge for specialty crop growers,1 who face challenges filling positions with domestic workers. This is due in part to the physical and temporary nature of employment, and the ability of employers to offer salaries that are competitive against employment opportunities in other sectors. Farm wages were only 59% of the wage rate of comparable positions in other industries in 2020.2

The decline in the farm labor supply has resulted in a growing reliance on the H-2A temporary agricultural program. This program allows employers to recruit foreign workers to fill seasonal positions. During the last decade, the number of H-2A visas issued increased at an approximate average rate of 17% annually, quadrupling from 65,345 in 2012 to 257,898 in 2021 (Figure 1). This growth was stronger in the specialty crop sector. The expansion in H-2A employment is, in part, the result of an increase in the number of workers petitioned and the number of operations—including small and medium-scale—employing H-2A workers.3 The H-2A program has its challenges and can be costly for producers who must provide transportation and housing for H-2A workers and pay the state’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is often higher than the local worker hourly pay. 

With an aging farm labor force3, agricultural labor issues are likely to persist, posing a significant limitation to the specialty crop industry. Mechanization and immigration policies that improve the H-2A program and make it more accessible for farmers will be crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of the U.S. industry.

Data source: US Department of State. Nonimmigrant Visa Statistics. Available at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-statistics/nonimmigrant-visa-statistics.html/

References

1 American Vegetable Grower. 2020 State of the Vegetable Industry Survey. Available online: https://www.growingproduce.com/tag/2020-state-of-the-vegetable-industry/

2 US Department of Agriculture. Economic Research service. Farm Labor. Available online: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor.aspx3 2019 State of the Vegetable Industry Survey – American Vegetable Grower Magazine. Available online: https://www.growingproduce.com/vegetables/which-issues-have-your-attention-2019-state-of-the-vegetable-industry/

Canales, Elizabeth. “Reliance on H-2A Workers Continues to Spike as Specialty Crop Producers Face Labor Shortages“. Southern Ag Today 2(18.5). April 29, 2022. Permalink

Market Trends for U.S. Blueberry:  Implications for Southeastern U.S. Producers

Market Trends for U.S. Blueberry: Implications for Southeastern U.S. Producers

Annual harvested U.S. blueberry acreage has increased from 40,820 to 91,400 from 2000 to 2020 (Figure 1). In this same period, average blueberry yields increased from 4,480 to 6,630 pounds per acre, and the value of utilized production jumped from $177.8M to $904.8M. Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida were among the top eight producing states, with 21,700, 7,500, and 5,200 acres harvested, respectively, representing 30% of all U.S. blueberry acreage in 2019. Most of these Southeastern-grown blueberries are sold to the fresh market during the early season window of March through June. The 2019 average farm gate value for these three states was $256.2M, or 28.2% of the overall U.S. average farm gate value for cultivated fresh and frozen blueberries. While yields are relatively lower compared to northern growing states, ranging from 4,160 to 4,740 pounds per acre, grower prices are relatively higher, from $2.64/lb. in Florida to $1.42/lb. in Georgia.

As evidenced by the improved U.S. demand for blueberries, coordinated research and promotion efforts have proven successful drivers of industry profitability. Growers are encouraged to inform production decisions based on historical market trends and current price movements, with the goals of producing to market specifications and building in swift targeted responses to anticipated consumer demand shifts. Produce buyers possess the market side data metrics and timely analytics while growers are capable of manipulating inputs and varietal choices. Adopting a grow-on-demand approach built on shared data analysis between producers and retailers may allow the industry to capture added revenues and provide higher quality fresh berries to consumers.

Source: Developed from U.S. Department of Agriculture. May 2021. Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts 2020 Summary. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Link: https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/zs25x846c/sf269213r/6t054c23t/ncit0521.pdf

Morgan, Kimberly L. . “Market Trends for U.S. Blueberry: Implications for Southeastern U.S. Producers“. Southern Ag Today 2(13.5). March 25, 2022. Permalink

Digital Divide in Rural Communities

Digital Divide in Rural Communities

Broadband access has increasingly become a basic utility, but it is still out of reach for many rural communities. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims that broadband internet is not available to 24.7 million people in the United States, data from Microsoft indicated that 162.8 million (almost half the population of the United States) do not use internet at broadband speeds. Digital Divide Index provides an overview of the disparity across the United States. COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized the need for broadband as schools and businesses shifted to virtual mode. The digital divide can be addressed by:

  1. Reducing Municipal broadband restrictions: As of 2021, municipal broadband was restricted in eighteen states across the United States. Some states have allowed electric co-operatives to provide broadband in their service territories.
  2. Providing Incentives for Internet Service Providers: Population density in rural areas is much lower than urban areas, thereby increasing the relative cost of installing fiber-optic cable. Providing incentives for internet service providers would help reduce the costs of providing internet to rural areas.
  3. Reducing the Burden on Right-of-way and Easements: Obtaining permissions for right-of-way and easements to lay fiber-optic cable are often difficult and slow. A public-private partnership that can reduce the costs and time delays in obtaining right-of-way and easement will expedite the process.
  4. Improving Adoption and affordability: Lower-income residents experience a higher economic burden due to lack of devices and affordable broadband subscription plans. Programs such as Emergency Broadband Benefit and the new Affordable Connectivity Program can help improve adoption of broadband. Further, demand-side management programs if offered through internet service providers can improve access to broadband.
  5. Supporting Broadband Programs: Library mobile hotspot lending programs, downtown wi-fi programs have been widely successful A public-private partnership promoting these programs will improve education, business development, healthcare, tourism and recreation opportunities across communities.

Upendram, Sreedhar. “Digital Divide in Rural Communities“. Southern Ag Today 2(12.5). March 18, 2022. Permalink

Locally Raised Meats:  Cooperatives Needed

Locally Raised Meats: Cooperatives Needed

As a result of COVID-19 grocery store shortages, federal and state governments are investing in local food systems with meat processing high on the list. However, once local meat processing bottlenecks have been relieved, additional obstacles will need to be overcome. Clemson surveys of consumers and restaurants in 2020 and 2021 reveal that additional obstacles for increasing local meat sales are availability, price, and inconsistent quality1.

A lack of availability points out that there are not enough sales outlets for local meats and purchasing local meats is often inconvenient for potential customers. For instance, most local meat consumers visit a farmers’ market once a month2 yet shop at a grocery store 2-3 times per week3. Even the most dedicated local food consumer sources less than 50% of their groceries from local producers4. For local meats to grow long-term, producers must work together to supply grocery stores and restaurants while addressing the remaining issues of quality inconsistency and price.

One of the best ways for farmers to work together is to form a cooperative or similar collaborative business arrangement. Through collaborative business arrangements, local meat producers can adopt quality guidelines, provide a consistent supply to more sales outlets, and operate at a more efficient scale (possibly becoming more price-competitive). In short, business collaborations will give local meat producers a shot at gaining and maintaining a competitive position in the market.

For more information about cooperatives and collaborative business formation, contact a land grant university or cooperative development center in your region. Contact information for USDA rural cooperative development centers can be found at this link:

https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cooperative_development_centers_february2022.xlsx

References

  1. Richards, S. (2021). National Restaurant Buyer Survey Results. Clemson University (Unpublished report). Copy in possession of the first author.
  2. Richards, S. (2020). Local Meat Consumer Survey Results. Clemson University (Unpublished report for Berkeley Electric Cooperative and the South Carolina Cattlemens’ Association). Copy in possession of the first author.
  3. Ver Ploeg, M., Larimore, E., & Wilde, P. (2017). The Influence of Food Store Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spendingers.usda.gov
  4. Cicatiello, C. (2020). Alternative food shoppers and the “quantity dilemma”: a study on the determinants of their purchases at alternative markets. Agricultural and Food Economics8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40100-020-00160-6

Richards, Steve. “Locally Raised Meats: Cooperatives Needed“. Southern Ag Today 2(11.5). March 11, 2022. Permalink

Agrotourism and Land Use – Happily Ever After?

Agrotourism and Land Use – Happily Ever After?

One of the biggest trends in land use law is an increasing number of court cases and legislative battles over agritourism. The first issue surrounds the question of what activities qualify as agritourism. Second, courts, state legislatures, and local planning boards struggle to harmonize agritourism with other land uses.

 One generally thinks of agritourism as pick-your-own, hayrides, corn mazes, small farm stands, and maybe even apple cannons and punkin’ chunkers. Depending on where you live, the courts or state legislature may have determined that weddings, paintball, shooting ranges, rodeos, concerts, festivals, movies, and even skydiving constitute agritourism. Agritourism activities should also be connected to production activities on that farm.

 Most communities support agritourism as a way to help agricultural operations supplement their incomes. However, as agritourism activities increasingly involve large numbers of people and cars, increased noise, parking and traffic issues and attendees wandering onto neighboring properties, conflicts between agritourism operators and their neighbors have increased. Some of the complaining neighbors are producers that find that the cars, people and noise interfere with their production activities.

 Weddings are a prime example of a contentious agritourism activity today. Courts have struggled to determine when a wedding is sufficiently connected to the farm’s production activities to be considered “agrtourism”. Courts increasingly consult several different factors in a complex analysis to make legal decisions. Is the farm setting integral to the wedding ceremony? Are farm products such as flowers or food items used in the wedding or reception? Perhaps the wedding is agritourism, but the reception should be held elsewhere?

Take these questions and concerns and expand them to the myriad of activities that may be considered agritourism and the difficulties are obvious. Land use impacts of production agriculture and intensive agritourism activities are very different and neighbors react accordingly. As always, agritourism operators should think about impacts to neighbors when developing new activities. Neighbors should be consulted prior to commencing the new activity. In addition, design activities to minimize impacts on nearby landowners. Agritourism operations that result in angry neighbors not only cause negative publicity for that operation, but for agritourism as a whole.

Richardson, Jesse J.. “Agritourism and Land Use- Happily Ever After?”. Southern Ag Today 2(10.5). March 4, 2022. Permalink

The COVID Effect and Search Behavior for Plants Online

The COVID Effect and Search Behavior for Plants Online

The COVID-19 pandemic affected how consumers buy ornamental plants. Consumer demand for ornamental plants increased during the pandemic as they were spending more time at home and sought safe outdoor activities (e.g., gardening). Their use of online information sources increased as well. Google Trends (2021) demonstrates U.S. consumers’ garden and landscape search behavior over the past 5 years. The waves indicate the seasonality of gardening and landscaping purchases where peak interest occurs during spring and early summer and interest wains during fall and winter. In 2020, there is a “COVID bump” where U.S. consumer online inquiries drastically increased over the previous three years. In 2021, there was an echo of this bump indicating increased interest (when compared to 2019 and earlier) but not to the extent observed in 2020. Two key implications of these trends are 1) Relevant, up-to-date information should be available online for consumers prior to the growing season; and, 2) Consumers are actively seeking gardening and landscaping information online, meaning online tools present an opportunity to effectively reach audiences with pertinent information.

Source: Developed from Google Trends on 8/27/2021

Rihn, Alicia L. . “The COVID Effect and Search Behavior for Plants Online“. Southern Ag Today 2(9.5). February 25, 2022. Permalink