Fall 2017 Logan County
Farm Outlook Magazine

Farm labor: A growing problem everywhere
By  Jim Youngquist

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[November 01, 2017]  Since early spring there has been a sign out in front of Topflight’s Kruger elevator advertising for a company called StaffQuick, a temp agency that Topflight uses to recruit the seasonal and temporary workers that they need.

Todd Steinberg, Western Region Division Manager at Topflight, said that StaffQuick comes once a week to their conference room to interview applicants. “It has worked better than some other things we have tried,” says Steinberg.

When asked if it completely took care of their staffing needs, Steinberg responded that there is always the unanticipated work rush that comes on and then it is usually impossible to find the help we need.

Most of the country is reporting a shortage in agricultural workers. In states where agricultural workers tend and pick produce, there has been a very high shortage of workers. Changes in national politics and immigration policies have led to fewer immigrant workers entering the country.

In the United States, 50 percent of agricultural jobs are filled by immigrant workers and they are staying away because they fear the person and the policies of President Donald Trump, who is waging war against undocumented entry into the United States in order to fill the job ranks with American citizens instead of foreign immigrants.

But the result is that American citizens don’t seem to want those jobs. Seasonal and temporary jobs, unsanitary conditions, manual back-breaking labor, and working outside all day don’t seem to suit most Americans. Several states report that produce has rotted on the vine because of the significant shortage of agricultural workers. The result will be higher produce prices and maybe even shortages because the crops just don’t pick themselves.

There is a shortage of agricultural workers here in Logan County also. Agee Farms has had a sign out in front of their elevator operation out at Bell Station since early spring. The sign advertises for CDL (commercial drivers licensed) drivers and equipment operators.

Justin Agee and his family farm an increasing amount of acreage, operate many machines and trucks, and usually have openings for numerous workers. Without enough workers, the extra-long days and the stress of harvest grows during the time of year when the hours of daylight grow short.

Illiopolis farmer John Bruntjen advertised in more than 15 different places for farm employees this year. “The turnout was terrible,” Bruntjen said. He put ads in three different papers, put fliers with tabs in numerous high traffic areas across the county, and did everything he could think of to attract the labor he needed to bring in the harvest.

Bruntjen, like Agee, continues to add acreage to his operation each year and needs to bring in CDL drivers to bring the crop to the elevator. Bruntjen remarked that this year very few applicants came, and those who did come presented themselves very poorly. He hired two men, and one of them didn’t show up for work on the very first day. The second man dropped out before the week was over.

Bruntjen resorted to hiring some unqualified applicants and he paid for their training and their CDL testing. It turned out mediocre, Bruntjen said, because there were accidents in the first week.

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Steinberg from Topflight said that the local ag labor shortage has to do with the fact that it is temporary, short-term work being offered in a day and age when people are looking for long-term, upscale jobs. The labor market right now is pretty well filled with people who are looking to move up in position and pay, but are not looking for part-time jobs. “So,” Steinberg said, “the people we tend to get are the people who are between jobs and looking for something, anything. But they usually don’t stay.”

The agriculture job marketplace is predicted to become worse in coming years both on a national and on a local level, according to an article in USA Today. Most agricultural producers are researching and investing in new ways to bring in their crops with more mechanization and fewer employees.

An article in Forbes magazine said that robots were going to replace employees on the farm in the near future. The article said that agricultural concerns can’t wait 10 years to resolve this problem with automation. They need a fix in the next two to three years.

Companies like Tesla are moving ahead with designs for the next generation of vehicles that are driverless, and are planning on bringing out electric trucks that will drive themselves.

Systems like RTK continue to develop combines and tractors that “almost” drive and operate themselves, but still require an operator to be in the cabin to reposition at the end of each row.

Case IH has developed a self-driving tractor that they call the “Terminator” of the agricultural world, which doesn’t even have a cabin for a human operator. The Terminator is programmed by using a tablet such as an iPad.

While it is not yet available, NASA says that with continuing developments in Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, in years to come self-driving tractors and combines will be commonplace.

In the meantime, farmers like John Bruntjen work through the annual problems of trying to hire a fleet of workers to bring his crop in. “You can never pay a good employee too much,” Bruntjen said.

Read all the articles in our new
Fall 2017 Logan County
Farm Outlook Magazine

Analysis of the 2017 Season 4
Weeds plentiful in the field this year 10
Developing smart drainage and its role in better productivity 15
Corn Genetics:  The savior and the great destroyer 20
Understanding "basis" and how it can improve profitablilty 24
Farm labor:  A growing problem everywhere 29
Selling direct offers producers new opportunities 33
Five critical areas to focus on with your lender 39
Low grain prices and stress on the family farm 44

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