Produce growers come together to seek solutions to labor shortage
Colorado produce growers as well as farm labor regulators and service providers came together to seek solutions to the acute farm worker shortage throughout the state. The meetings happened Dec. 3-4 at the Colorado Agriculture and Farm Labor Summit in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Dec. 5, at the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Produce Labor Conference in Aurora, Colo.
Growers and regulators, who have at times been in productive dialogue, met to work toward solutions that provide services available to farm labors and provide the labor growers need to raise and harvest crops. CFVGA conference attendees had an opportunity to discuss an idea that came out of the Dec, 3-4 conference on ways to improve domestic farm worker recruitment.
“This process gave growers the opportunity to see what services are available from the public sector for their workers,” said CFVGA President Robert Sakata, who co-chaired the session with Colorado Department of Labor & Employment Director of Southeast and South-Central Workforce Areas Betty Velasquez. “And it also let service providers understand the difficulty farmers face finding qualified farm workers.”
In introducing the discussion, Velasquez said: “If your farm worker is better taken care of, he or she will be a better worker. It just makes sense (for growers and service providers) to work together.”
In addition, attendees heard from Jason Resnick of Western Growers that the adverse wage rate for foreign farm workers in Colorado is slated to increase to $13.13 per hour in January, which represents a 23 percent increase. The adverse wage rate is calculated as the rate that will not undercut domestic workers’ pay rates.
“The 23 percent increase was a shocking amount for Colorado produce growers who are struggling with adverse weather and mixed produce prices,” Sakata said. “Fortunately, we had representatives from Sens. (Cory) Gardener, (R-Colo.), and (Michael) Bennet, (D-Colo.) and Rep. (Ken) Buck’s (R-Colo.) offices in attendance and started the conversation about what they can do to lessen the steep increase, perhaps through a one-year moratorium on the wage increase.
Another part of the CFVGA was aimed at looking for technology and innovative ideas to alleviate the farm labor shortage. To that end, CFVGA’s labor conference featured demonstrations of products currently on the market as well as ideas still under formation. The winner of the demonstration of current technology was C&M Transplanters, and the winner of the ideas under formation was a cooperative mobile labor workforce.