Staffing struggles grow more expensive for York County farmers as wages continue to rise under H-2A program

YORK, S.C. (CN2 NEWS) – Farming is no easy task, but not being able to find help makes the job even harder.

That’s why Bush-N-Vine Farm relies on the H-2A program, a government initiative aimed at helping farmers find employees through foreign workers.

According to some farmers the program is not cheap, and it’s only getting more expensive with time, which is why area agriculture experts are looking to elected officials for help.

CN2’s Zane Cina met with Sam Hall, the owner of Bush-N-Vine, to learn how these staffing issues are make produce more expensive on the store shelf.

Bush-N-Vine currently employees more than 20 workers through the H-2A program, Hall says all of them come across the border from Mexico.

“We pay them $11.99 an hour, we pay their way here and their way back home. We pay a lawyer to manage and get them all up here,” Hall said. “And we provide free housing and transportation while they’re here. We’re not allowed to charge them.”

The program is run through the U.S. Department of Labor, who Hall says limits the amount of time employees can spend on an American farm to just 10 consecutive months per contract.

Bush-N-Vine has already begun budgeting and planning for the amount of employees that will be needed to work next year, but Hall says the farm will ultimately still be in the dark on the cost of wages up until the very end of 2023.

“Early December of 2022 they said alright next year it’s going to be $13.67 an hour, so we went from $11.99 to $13.67 with about one month of a heads up. Now how you supposed to farm like that,” Hall said.

Hall hoped to find clarification on how wage rates are calculated by attending a recent meeting between Tri-county farmers and Congressman Ralph Norman. Hall said he ultimately came away from that meeting still in the dark.

Congressman Norman did say he sees the current H-2A program as a major problem that is unfortunately out of his control, this led his staff to recommend that farmers speak up.

Hall has heard that advice many times during his 13 years of farming full time, and said so far raising his voice hasn’t been much help, which is why Bush-N-Vine now plans to inform customers.

“It is why a lot of the food prices in stores have gone up,” Hall said, “We’ve decided it’s not talking to the law makers any more, it’s talking to the public and letting them know hey you need to call your legislature and let them know you’re fed up with the price increases.”

While he has not yet seen the numbers, Hall expects another wage increase to come this December, and added it will likely mean he can take on less employees.

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