(Oct. 12) Some growers are ready to put their money where they want their workers.

Rising interest in the H-2A guest agricultural worker program — which requires housing for the temporary workers — is fueling an effort by some growers to build farm labor housing, said Jasper Hempel, executive vice president and general counsel Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.

Housing is a requirement for the H-2A program, and the lack of ready housing has been a factor in the limited use of the program in California and Arizona, Hempel said.

“That’s been the barrier that prevents more of our members from having H-2A,” he said.

However, some growers are now beginning to invest what Hempel called serious money in farm labor housing, he said.

“We are about to see a big increase in H-2A applications,” he said.

Hempel said the supply of undocumented or fraudulently documented workers is in steady decline. That, along with inaction by Congress on comprehensive immigration reform, has created greater need for the H-2A program among growers.

PECKING ORDER

Western U.S. states have not traditionally been the heaviest users of the H-2A program, despite the fact that many acres of labor-intensive crops are grown in California and Arizona.

In fiscal year 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that Arizona had 51 agricultural employers bring in 1,405 certified H-2A workers, while 258 employers in California brought in 2,292 certified H-2A workers. No statistics with state specific information were available from previous years.

The nearly 3,700 guest workers in the two states in fiscal year 2006 accounted for just 6% of the more than 59,000 H-2A certified workers brought into the U.S. that year.

By way of contrast, North Carolina had 7,800 workers certified, Georgia had 5,300 and Virginia and Louisiana had about 4,000 each.