Severe restrictions on people crossing our borders could present a problem for Central New York’s farmers. The New York Farm Bureau is asking for state and federal help to make sure farms have labor to plant, harvest and produce food.
Central New York’s farms that grow fruit, vegetables, feed for livestock and grapes for wines use migrant workers … who usually start showing right around this time of year. New York farms use about eight-thousand people from other countries. Farm Bureau Spokesperson Steve Ammerman says it’s a problem if they can’t make it.
“These are seasonal jobs only … people who maybe pick apples, plant and harvest greens and crops and produce on our farms. So, 8000 workers, that’s a significant number. And it’s been difficult for our farmers to find local help willing to do those jobs.”
He knows there might be a labor pool among local people who have recently been laid off. But farmers need them for the entire growing and harvesting season. The immigrant workers come on what’s known as H-2A visas. And with borders on pretty complete lockdown over fears that the corona virus can migrate, processing those visas has come to a standstill. The Farm Bureau has contacted state and federal officials to ease the roadblock.
“That’s critical in keeping food on our store shelves. We have to have the availability of labor. Labor’s been an issue we’ve been talking about for years, saying it is an issue of national security. And I think we’re seeing that having a bit more prominence right now.”
Ammerman assures people the food supply is secure. He knows farmers are committed to feeding the community.
“We’ve been saying time and time again that people shouldn’t panic. We do have a strong food supply, an abundant food supply … and we should all be grateful for that and for the work that takes place on our farms. Knowing that food will be on the store shelves is definitely a comfort, in times of need, in times of crisis, because that is a necessity that people shouldn’t have to worry about.”
Some of the temporary immigrant workers are already in the H-2A visa system and Ammerman says they should be helping farm owners soon. They’ll be waiting for word from the Department of Labor to see about opening up the visa system, knowing that any workers who do come into the US will have to undergo medical testing before entering the country.