Labor has been an issue for some Michigan producers, while for others the H-2A program has been a stabilizing element.
Steve Haaksma, sales manager for Byron Center, Mich.-based E. Miedema & Sons, said labor is always a wild card.
“Right now we have enough labor,” Haaksma said, then paused to knock on his wooden desk, only partly in jest.
“We’ve had a lot of families that work for us that come up year after year, and they treat us well and we in turn treat them well. We hope to have another good year labor-wise. I know a lot of farms can’t say that.”
He noted the company uses an incentive program to reward employees that begin and end the season with E. Miedema & Sons.
Loren Buurma, partner in Buurma Farms in Gregory, Mich., said the company expects to be in good shape, having had good crews in 2017 and planning for them to come back.
Operations manager Justin Finkler and account manager Trish Taylor said labor has been consistent and adequate for Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing.
Fred Leitz Jr., partner in Sodus, Mich.-based Leitz Farms. said his company has been able to meet its labor needs with H-2A, but he noted that some neighbors who don’t use the program have been a little short.
Todd DeWaard, sales manager for Hudsonville, Mich.-based Superior Sales, described a similar dynamic.
“(It) continues to be a struggle for our smaller growers,” DeWaard said.
“Growers that are not utilizing the H-2A program due to being too small are struggling to find help. We have seen this become an issue over the past five years, and (it) seems to have come to a head the past 2-3 years in particular,” he said.
“A lot of our smaller growers cut back 50% last year, and some are looking at the possibility of not farming at all if things do not change on the labor front.”