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Hiring Seasonal Workers
Finding enough people to work on the farm is one of the toughest issues in agriculture. A federal program called H2A says if you have a seasonal farm such as a vineyard or apple orchard and you can’t find sufficient American help, the government allows you to bring in foreign nationals to fill those jobs.
Walter Conlon is the president of Farm Hands, LLC. He recruits seasonal employees primarily from the Western Ukraine, taking care of the details and processing the paperwork for eligible American farmers. How long the workers stay in the United States depends on the farmer’s season, but there’s a limit.
"The government starts looking at you with a bad view if you bring them over for 10 months or longer. So basically, it has to be a farming season," says Conlon. "Now, sometimes a season will be limited, or it will be bifurcated. For example, we have an apple grower and they will bring them over in mid-August till mid-November to pick the apples, and then they’ll bring them back in January through March to prune the trees."
Even though it’s just a few months out of the year, Conlon says the Ukrainians are more than willing to come to the United States and work.
"Most of our people tend to be in their 30’s. In many cases, they are married people whose families are staying at home. The economic situation in Western Ukraine is really bad," he says. "Your average wage for a college-educated person in the rural areas, if they get $150-$200 a month they’re happy. In the big cities there will be higher pay, but it’s all eaten up by the rent."