Farm Labor Shortages

“Cheese Cave” in Springfield, Missouri Photo Credit: Brown Political Review
From left to right: Luis Yepiz, Ben Collier, and Sophia Adelle on Capitol Hill for The United Fresh Conference.
Storm surge floods the parking lot to McElroy’s Harbor House restaurant in Mississippi on August 26 as Hurricane Ida approached. Hannah Ruhoff
Photo credit: SunHerald.com
Emma Andersson
August 11, 2022

In The Farmlink Project’s first year, we rescued nearly 22 million pounds of food from farms. By the end of 2021, that amount had reached 70 million and continues to climb. Though we expect to rescue and deliver more food to communities in need as we grow, Farmlink was not designed to be permanent. From the start, Farmlink was intended to serve as a temporary link between parts of a broken supply chain. In the long run, we envision a system in which no food goes to waste and everyone has access to nutritious food, making our intervention unnecessary.

Until then, we ask ourselves: why does all this food need to be rescued in the first place?

In an effort to answer this question and build a more efficient food system accordingly, we have explored the challenges facing growers. We have learned that when harvest time comes around, various factors determine if and to what extent farmers will pick crops: weather conditions, market demand, food safety regulations, visible imperfections (like weird shapes and sizes), and storage space, to name just a few. Notably, a 2012 NRDC report attributed 20 percent of unharvested produce in the U.S. to the shortage of farm labor. 

In light of a 2019 study showing that as much as 33.7 percent of edible produce remains unharvested in fields, contributing to 16% of total U.S. food waste, the need to address these hurdles becomes obvious. We start with the ongoing labor shortage.

Agricultural production in the U.S. relies on family and hired labor, both domestic and migrant. Since the 1990s, however, these sources of labor have all decreased. For one, young Americans are losing interest in agriculture, a physically-demanding profession that requires a hefty initial investment and comes with an unequal work-life balance. A 2011 study conducted by the New American Economy revealed that only 265 American workers applied to 6,500 open farm jobs in North Carolina at the season’s start, leaving the majority of positions unfilled. 

Immigrants have historically filled that void, representing approximately 73% of the agricultural labor force but only 13% of the total U.S. population. However, this demographic is also shrinking; the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in agriculture has decreased by 75 percent. Improved rates of global literacy, which create the opportunity for immigrants to pursue less labor-intensive careers, and changing immigration policies hold responsibility for this decline. Additionally, agricultural employers are struggling to compete with corporate employers that can offer better pay and attractive work-from-home options. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated obstacles to meeting the labor demand. Migrant labor flow slowed when international embassies closed and offered fewer visas. Consequently, 70% of produce growers and manufacturers struggled to recruit adequate staff for the 2021 season. 

With the labor supply dwindling, the cost of labor has risen. Unable to hire enough workers and struggling to pay these higher wages, farmers have no other choice but to abandon fields or entire crops in an effort to cut costs. The result? On-farm food loss.

This is where Farmlink steps in. Our teams identify and connect with these farms, providing support by covering the cost of transportation needed to move that otherwise-wasted produce to food banks. We’ve successfully rescued and delivered millions of pounds of food through our actions, but we dream of a zero-waste, accessible system that doesn’t depend on our existence. 

Learning about our food system from our partners and understanding its shortcomings marks the first step toward achieving this goal. Getting informed is something we can all do to contribute to the development of a more efficient and sustainable food system. Check out these resources to get started!

USDA Farm Labor

Podcast: Farming amid a chronic labor shortage: A conversation with three New Hampshire producers

The National Law Review: Rural Areas in the US See Acute Shortage of Agricultural Laborers: Ohio and Pennsylvania Face Challenge

The Wall Street Journal: On U.S. Farms, Fewer Hands for the Harvest

“Managed Migrations: Growers, Farmworkers, and Border Enforcement in the Twentieth Century” by Cristina Salinas

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Farm Labor Shortages

August 11, 2022

In The Farmlink Project’s first year, we rescued nearly 22 million pounds of food from farms. By the end of 2021, that amount had reached 70 million and continues to climb. Though we expect to rescue and deliver more food to communities in need as we grow, Farmlink was not designed to be permanent. From the start, Farmlink was intended to serve as a temporary link between parts of a broken supply chain. In the long run, we envision a system in which no food goes to waste and everyone has access to nutritious food, making our intervention unnecessary.

Until then, we ask ourselves: why does all this food need to be rescued in the first place?

In an effort to answer this question and build a more efficient food system accordingly, we have explored the challenges facing growers. We have learned that when harvest time comes around, various factors determine if and to what extent farmers will pick crops: weather conditions, market demand, food safety regulations, visible imperfections (like weird shapes and sizes), and storage space, to name just a few. Notably, a 2012 NRDC report attributed 20 percent of unharvested produce in the U.S. to the shortage of farm labor. 

In light of a 2019 study showing that as much as 33.7 percent of edible produce remains unharvested in fields, contributing to 16% of total U.S. food waste, the need to address these hurdles becomes obvious. We start with the ongoing labor shortage.

Agricultural production in the U.S. relies on family and hired labor, both domestic and migrant. Since the 1990s, however, these sources of labor have all decreased. For one, young Americans are losing interest in agriculture, a physically-demanding profession that requires a hefty initial investment and comes with an unequal work-life balance. A 2011 study conducted by the New American Economy revealed that only 265 American workers applied to 6,500 open farm jobs in North Carolina at the season’s start, leaving the majority of positions unfilled. 

Immigrants have historically filled that void, representing approximately 73% of the agricultural labor force but only 13% of the total U.S. population. However, this demographic is also shrinking; the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in agriculture has decreased by 75 percent. Improved rates of global literacy, which create the opportunity for immigrants to pursue less labor-intensive careers, and changing immigration policies hold responsibility for this decline. Additionally, agricultural employers are struggling to compete with corporate employers that can offer better pay and attractive work-from-home options. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated obstacles to meeting the labor demand. Migrant labor flow slowed when international embassies closed and offered fewer visas. Consequently, 70% of produce growers and manufacturers struggled to recruit adequate staff for the 2021 season. 

With the labor supply dwindling, the cost of labor has risen. Unable to hire enough workers and struggling to pay these higher wages, farmers have no other choice but to abandon fields or entire crops in an effort to cut costs. The result? On-farm food loss.

This is where Farmlink steps in. Our teams identify and connect with these farms, providing support by covering the cost of transportation needed to move that otherwise-wasted produce to food banks. We’ve successfully rescued and delivered millions of pounds of food through our actions, but we dream of a zero-waste, accessible system that doesn’t depend on our existence. 

Learning about our food system from our partners and understanding its shortcomings marks the first step toward achieving this goal. Getting informed is something we can all do to contribute to the development of a more efficient and sustainable food system. Check out these resources to get started!

USDA Farm Labor

Podcast: Farming amid a chronic labor shortage: A conversation with three New Hampshire producers

The National Law Review: Rural Areas in the US See Acute Shortage of Agricultural Laborers: Ohio and Pennsylvania Face Challenge

The Wall Street Journal: On U.S. Farms, Fewer Hands for the Harvest

“Managed Migrations: Growers, Farmworkers, and Border Enforcement in the Twentieth Century” by Cristina Salinas

Get Educated

Farm Labor Shortages

August 11, 2022

In The Farmlink Project’s first year, we rescued nearly 22 million pounds of food from farms. By the end of 2021, that amount had reached 70 million and continues to climb. Though we expect to rescue and deliver more food to communities in need as we grow, Farmlink was not designed to be permanent. From the start, Farmlink was intended to serve as a temporary link between parts of a broken supply chain. In the long run, we envision a system in which no food goes to waste and everyone has access to nutritious food, making our intervention unnecessary.

Until then, we ask ourselves: why does all this food need to be rescued in the first place?

In an effort to answer this question and build a more efficient food system accordingly, we have explored the challenges facing growers. We have learned that when harvest time comes around, various factors determine if and to what extent farmers will pick crops: weather conditions, market demand, food safety regulations, visible imperfections (like weird shapes and sizes), and storage space, to name just a few. Notably, a 2012 NRDC report attributed 20 percent of unharvested produce in the U.S. to the shortage of farm labor. 

In light of a 2019 study showing that as much as 33.7 percent of edible produce remains unharvested in fields, contributing to 16% of total U.S. food waste, the need to address these hurdles becomes obvious. We start with the ongoing labor shortage.

Agricultural production in the U.S. relies on family and hired labor, both domestic and migrant. Since the 1990s, however, these sources of labor have all decreased. For one, young Americans are losing interest in agriculture, a physically-demanding profession that requires a hefty initial investment and comes with an unequal work-life balance. A 2011 study conducted by the New American Economy revealed that only 265 American workers applied to 6,500 open farm jobs in North Carolina at the season’s start, leaving the majority of positions unfilled. 

Immigrants have historically filled that void, representing approximately 73% of the agricultural labor force but only 13% of the total U.S. population. However, this demographic is also shrinking; the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in agriculture has decreased by 75 percent. Improved rates of global literacy, which create the opportunity for immigrants to pursue less labor-intensive careers, and changing immigration policies hold responsibility for this decline. Additionally, agricultural employers are struggling to compete with corporate employers that can offer better pay and attractive work-from-home options. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated obstacles to meeting the labor demand. Migrant labor flow slowed when international embassies closed and offered fewer visas. Consequently, 70% of produce growers and manufacturers struggled to recruit adequate staff for the 2021 season. 

With the labor supply dwindling, the cost of labor has risen. Unable to hire enough workers and struggling to pay these higher wages, farmers have no other choice but to abandon fields or entire crops in an effort to cut costs. The result? On-farm food loss.

This is where Farmlink steps in. Our teams identify and connect with these farms, providing support by covering the cost of transportation needed to move that otherwise-wasted produce to food banks. We’ve successfully rescued and delivered millions of pounds of food through our actions, but we dream of a zero-waste, accessible system that doesn’t depend on our existence. 

Learning about our food system from our partners and understanding its shortcomings marks the first step toward achieving this goal. Getting informed is something we can all do to contribute to the development of a more efficient and sustainable food system. Check out these resources to get started!

USDA Farm Labor

Podcast: Farming amid a chronic labor shortage: A conversation with three New Hampshire producers

The National Law Review: Rural Areas in the US See Acute Shortage of Agricultural Laborers: Ohio and Pennsylvania Face Challenge

The Wall Street Journal: On U.S. Farms, Fewer Hands for the Harvest

“Managed Migrations: Growers, Farmworkers, and Border Enforcement in the Twentieth Century” by Cristina Salinas

Get Educated
No items found.

Farm Labor Shortages

August 11, 2022

In The Farmlink Project’s first year, we rescued nearly 22 million pounds of food from farms. By the end of 2021, that amount had reached 70 million and continues to climb. Though we expect to rescue and deliver more food to communities in need as we grow, Farmlink was not designed to be permanent. From the start, Farmlink was intended to serve as a temporary link between parts of a broken supply chain. In the long run, we envision a system in which no food goes to waste and everyone has access to nutritious food, making our intervention unnecessary.

Until then, we ask ourselves: why does all this food need to be rescued in the first place?

In an effort to answer this question and build a more efficient food system accordingly, we have explored the challenges facing growers. We have learned that when harvest time comes around, various factors determine if and to what extent farmers will pick crops: weather conditions, market demand, food safety regulations, visible imperfections (like weird shapes and sizes), and storage space, to name just a few. Notably, a 2012 NRDC report attributed 20 percent of unharvested produce in the U.S. to the shortage of farm labor. 

In light of a 2019 study showing that as much as 33.7 percent of edible produce remains unharvested in fields, contributing to 16% of total U.S. food waste, the need to address these hurdles becomes obvious. We start with the ongoing labor shortage.

Agricultural production in the U.S. relies on family and hired labor, both domestic and migrant. Since the 1990s, however, these sources of labor have all decreased. For one, young Americans are losing interest in agriculture, a physically-demanding profession that requires a hefty initial investment and comes with an unequal work-life balance. A 2011 study conducted by the New American Economy revealed that only 265 American workers applied to 6,500 open farm jobs in North Carolina at the season’s start, leaving the majority of positions unfilled. 

Immigrants have historically filled that void, representing approximately 73% of the agricultural labor force but only 13% of the total U.S. population. However, this demographic is also shrinking; the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. to work in agriculture has decreased by 75 percent. Improved rates of global literacy, which create the opportunity for immigrants to pursue less labor-intensive careers, and changing immigration policies hold responsibility for this decline. Additionally, agricultural employers are struggling to compete with corporate employers that can offer better pay and attractive work-from-home options. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated obstacles to meeting the labor demand. Migrant labor flow slowed when international embassies closed and offered fewer visas. Consequently, 70% of produce growers and manufacturers struggled to recruit adequate staff for the 2021 season. 

With the labor supply dwindling, the cost of labor has risen. Unable to hire enough workers and struggling to pay these higher wages, farmers have no other choice but to abandon fields or entire crops in an effort to cut costs. The result? On-farm food loss.

This is where Farmlink steps in. Our teams identify and connect with these farms, providing support by covering the cost of transportation needed to move that otherwise-wasted produce to food banks. We’ve successfully rescued and delivered millions of pounds of food through our actions, but we dream of a zero-waste, accessible system that doesn’t depend on our existence. 

Learning about our food system from our partners and understanding its shortcomings marks the first step toward achieving this goal. Getting informed is something we can all do to contribute to the development of a more efficient and sustainable food system. Check out these resources to get started!

USDA Farm Labor

Podcast: Farming amid a chronic labor shortage: A conversation with three New Hampshire producers

The National Law Review: Rural Areas in the US See Acute Shortage of Agricultural Laborers: Ohio and Pennsylvania Face Challenge

The Wall Street Journal: On U.S. Farms, Fewer Hands for the Harvest

“Managed Migrations: Growers, Farmworkers, and Border Enforcement in the Twentieth Century” by Cristina Salinas

Get Educated
Farm Labor Shortages

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