Snapshot of the Future

Twenty years ago, when I was managing my farm, I was having to listen to suppliers who serviced my operation on how I was just not up to the challenge of foreign competition. I told them I was forced to compete with imports from China that were being delivered to processing plants in New York for less than I could even ship them. The suppliers said I simply needed to rework my costs and trudge on.

Fast forward a few years and those same suppliers were at my operation explaining how China was undercutting them. It seemed that then and again today what impacted the farms should have been a warning to the rest of society. Competition for any product or service knows no borders. We all face the same competition.

In our economy today we are amid dramatic changes in our society. I am not here to take issue as to what factors are driving these evolutions. It could be due to Covid, politics or a list you may wish to add to. For at least three decades our farm labor pools have evolved. As farms grew in size and complexity, we saw traditional labor sources change. The immediate problem for agriculture was that public policy had not evolved to accept this truth. We were being penalized if we ventured outside the traditional domestic labor pools. To survive we had to look beyond State and Federal boundaries for our labor.

For the past two years, as I participated on national conference calls, I consistently reported that we were seeing a decline in our ability to staff our agricultural needs both in production and processing from domestic pools. It seemed that I was a lone voice on this, but I persisted. Today, across the nation, agriculture must rethink where to find adequate labor to operate our packing and processing plants. Traditional on farm jobs that domestic labor staffed have also declined.

Advances in wages and technological advances have made agriculture jobs more advantageous and less arduous. Despite this, the difficulty to find domestic labor is a constant issue. It seems ALL employers today are facing hiring difficulties to maintain their operations. Like the suppliers to my farm 20 years ago my issues caught up to them. Domestic work ethics are being altered.  People have new ways to support their lifestyles.

I fear that once again non-agriculture will be too slow to accept the realities of modern labor attitudes.  We in agriculture have been making drastic changes to maintain production. Thinking outside of the box on this topic is the norm today rather than the exception. Until the rest of society truly grasps the issue, we will see continued push back on employment practices we are using. Traditional motivations, such as the 40-hour work week and overtime, are going to be a continuous influence on our operations. These old practices may prove to be outdated in their effectiveness to motivate the modern employee.

It is quite ironic to accept that it is the farm that has first felt the brunt of these changes. Most people, I am certain, have an image that to work on a farm is less than progressive. I suggest that if you want a snapshot of the future, drive off the expressway and spend a day on the farm.