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VGN February 2016

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Automated trucks may play larger role in transportation Technology, consolidation drive vegetable industry Understand challenges of greenhouse pollination 8 25 32 February 2016 | Volume 50 | Issue 2 More Michigan growers hiring H-2A workers FILLING THE LABOR GAP By Matt Milkovich Manging Editor Michigan growers are taking the plunge into H-2A, and don't appear to be turning back. It started with a pilot project in 2014, when four apple orchards hired 90 pickers. By 2015, Michigan Farm Bureau, which organized the pilot, had created a division called Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS) to help growers navigate the federal guest-worker program. Michigan's H-2A use grew to 405 workers on 10 fruit and vegetable farms in 2015, and things are only expected to grow from there, said Katie Rasch, an associate labor program coordinator with GLALS. Rasch and other speakers discussed H-2A during the recent Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In years past, the advice to growers had always been "if you can go any other way besides H-2A, then do it," Rasch said. "We still kind of say that. If you're finding domestic labor anywhere else, you should go with that. H-2A is a very complicated and cumbersome process." But due to an aging workforce, tighter national borders and other factors, the domestic farm labor pool is drying up – leaving H-2A as the only viable alternative for many growers. If you decide to hire workers through H-2A, however, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. You'll have to wade through multiple government agencies, all with different deadlines. If you get behind with one, you get behind with all of them – which could ultimately lead to workers arriving late. A lot of "front-end" work is required, Rasch said. Be clear about what you need from the workers up front, because you will be held to the contract you sign with them. And keep in mind that H-2A rules require you to hire willing, qualified and able domestic workers, who are entitled to the same benefits and rate of pay as the guest workers (the minimum wage for Michigan H-2A workers in 2015 was $11.56 See H-2A, page 5 Growers are using the H-2A worker program to meet labor needs in the field and in the packing shed. Photo: Michigan State University

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