The worker shortage currently plaguing the U.S. agrifood industry isn’t likely to ease anytime soon, particularly if the current presidential administration doesn’t make bringing in more immigrant workers a priority, said Brett Stuart, CEO and co-founder of Global AgriTrends.
Stuart, analyzed the current workforce situation while speaking during the webinar, 2022 & the Global Commodity Super Cycle, part of the Balchem Real Science Lecture Series.
Stuart said the labor pool is an issue he is continually asked about by his clients, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Big feedlots, big hog farms, processing plants: Those managers, when they wake up in the morning, the first thing on their mind is ‘are we going to have enough people today to keep the plant running,’” said Stuart.
Labor unions and their clout
Stuart estimates that there 11 million job openings currently in the U.S., which is nearly double of those seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of the wealth of jobs and dearth of workers, Stuart said “labor unions are seeing maximum leverage.” That is concerning to Stuart.
He cited strikes with John Deere and Kellogg’s employees, and he mentioned that a strike nearly occurred at the largest beef processing plant in Canada.
“That’s definitely a concern. I’m happy to see processors and those in the ag industry raising wages as fast as they can right now, because we’ve got to keep employees coming,” he said.
Easy solution not so easy
When Stuart’s clients often ask him how the labor shortage situation can be fixed.
“It’s not a good answer, but the answer is get used to it. We’re not fixing it,” he said.
In Stuart’s mind, it isn’t a case of there being no solution to the problem. It’s more a case of the government ’s dedication to solve the problem.
“There is an answer. We have millions of workers south of the border – not just Mexico, but even Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala (and) El Salvador. We could bring millions of workers in, no problem. But I don’t see the administration doing that. The administration has shown no appetite to bring in more immigrant workers. I think their solution to this rapid inflation in all our costs is keep the labor market as tight as we can, so wages go up to keep up with that,” he said.
“But as wages go up, it also raises the cost of everything we buy. So, we are in a spot now when we desperately need labor and we just do not have access.”
Stuart says he knows people who are working on obtaining H-2A temporary agriculture worker visas, but “they are very tough to get approved.”