September 26, 2023

American farmers, ranchers, and businesses continue to use the H-2A visa program, which offers temporary employees for the agricultural sector, more and more frequently every year.

Jackson Takach, the senior economist of Farmer Mac, a Washington, D.C.-based lender for agricultural and rural infrastructure, predicts that the trend will likely continue over the next years.

Takach stated, “In the short term, I anticipate them to continue as long as we have that pressure on labor markets.

He just put the information from the previous ten years together in a Farmer Mac report.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the H-2A program permitted more than 378,000 temporary employees in 2022. That number was only 103,000 ten years prior.

H-2A workers are crucial for agriculture in the Midwest and Great Plains even though they are more frequently used in California and Florida, where the fruits and vegetables demand more physical labor. In the central United States, where they frequently assist in corn detasseling and the pig industry, Iowa tops the list of states with the highest concentration of H-2A workers, followed by Minnesota and North Dakota.

Farmers in the area claim they use the federal program because it is difficult for them to locate workers locally. In Edwardsville, Illinois, Jeff Heepke, a fourth generation horseradish grower, this is the situation.

“There’s just not enough people anymore to fill that gap,” he claimed. We absolutely need a crew, and we had to decide whether to cultivate horseradish or not since we couldn’t get staff.

Heepke grows soybeans and corn on his farm, but he and his family can take care of those crops on their own. However, his horseradish has to be planted and prepared by hand for the following year’s root harvest.


Heepke, who has used the program twice, hired six H-2A laborers to assist with his horseradish this past year. Heepke claimed that his family had previously employed local high school students and other local workers, but he started to have trouble filling vacancies.

He claimed, “They had all found other jobs, and we couldn’t find anyone to come work for us.” For the individuals we were seeking for, at least, the labor market has altered.

Proteus Inc., a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Des Moines, represents agricultural workers in Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana. It’s simple to miss how much guest workers contribute to American agriculture, according to CEO Daniel Zinnel.

He stated, “They’re working from sunrise to sunset to give us all the food that we eat every single day.

According to Zinnel, the group offers basic healthcare, job training, and educational services to both H-2A employees and nearby farmworkers. The earnings of the employees Proteus supports frequently begin below the poverty level. The group expects that those employees graduate from its program with annual salaries well above $35,000.

“We’re just seeing a growing number of H-2A visa workers coming to work in agriculture in general,” he added. “We’d like to keep giving as many of them access to care as we can.”

While Farmer Mac’s economist Takach anticipates an increase in the number of temporary employees as long as the labor market remains tight, he said that this might eventually alter.

The number of H-2A authorizations that the food system ultimately requires in a work force, according to Takach, “probably has a limit.” But that’s probably not going to happen in the next year or two. The technology would undoubtedly require additional time to develop.

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