Agricultural Labor in Midwestern United States specialty cropping systems
Midwest specialty crop production is highly dependent on its workers, many of whom are immigrants. Growers are contending with changes in the composition and size of the farm worker labor force due in part to shifts in immigration patterns. They are also facing changes in weather patterns due to climate change. This research addresses how growers can manage the labor needs of their operations through these shifts. First, a vulnerability framework is applied to interviews with Michigan specialty crop growers on their experiences with variability of labor and weather in their specialty crop systems. This study finds that growers are impacted by and react to the changes in weather and the labor workforce in a variety of ways, such as implementing various strategies to make their operation more attractive to workers as well as reducing the number of workers that their operation needs. These findings confirm the need for considering specialty crop growers and workers when studying both immigration policy and climate change. The second study examines the factors that impact farm worker job tenure, or the length of time that a worker stays with a particular employer, by analyzing data from the National Agricultural Workers Survey. The study finds that certain characteristics of workers and employers impact the length of job tenure, but that certain community characteristics and workers’ legal status do not influence the length of job tenure. The implications from this are that there are some factors that growers can control to make their operations more attractive for workers, such as the payment of bonuses, but that other important factors are somewhat outside of their control, such as offering increased year-round employment in operations that have distinct seasonal labor needs.