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Wanted: Your input on farm labor

It's been said many times that good help is hard to find. The old saying is certainly true in Upper Midwest agriculture, where farmers and ranchers often struggle to find employees, both full-time and seasonal.

Agweek reporter Jonathan Knutson plans a cover package on this important topic that will be published in early 2020. In addition to talking with experts about the challenges of the labor shortage and potential solutions to it, he wants input from readers about their own experiences in the hunt for hired help.

If you've looked unsuccessfully for hired help, let him know. If you've been successful in your search for employees, let him know.

And he'd like to feature a farming operation where a hired employee has worked for at least several years. What has the farm operator and employee done right that other agricultural producers might emulate?

If you know of such a relationship, or are part of one, let him know.

The deadline to contact Knutson is Dec. 1. He can be reached at jknutson@agweek.com or 701-280-1480.

A few statistics

Harvest, in particular, can be a challenge, with many farming operations unable to find enough people to operate trucks and combines or other harvest equipment. One example of that: It's not unusual to hear about Upper Midwest farms, which had been utilizing two combines, that switch to a single, bigger combine because they have trouble finding two combine operators.

Farm labor shortages are a problem nationally, too. This summer, Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer and president of the National Farm Bureau Federation, issued a written statement on labor shortages. "Farmers and ranchers in every state tell me that the shortage of labor is the greatest limiting factor on their farm," he said in the statement.

The upcoming Agweek cover package also will look at the causes of the farm labor shortage.

A September 2019 report, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, provides some insight and statistics into the issue.

Farms are getting bigger, and, even though farm equipment is getting bigger, too, larger farms need more employees than small ones. As a result, hired workers accounted for 35% of all ag workers in 2016, up from 25% in 2011 and 20% in 2003, the report found.

Another sign of the change: Farms' principal operators and spouses accounted for 59% of all ag workers in 2011, but just 49% in 2016, according to the report.

Three other items of note from the report:

• Nationally, and even in the Upper Midwest, more hired farm workers live in metropolitan areas than in non-metro areas.

• Women account for a growing percentage of hired ag workers, up from 19% in 2007 to 25% in 2017.

• The average age of hired ag workers is rising, increasing from 35.8 years in 2006 to 38.8 years in 2017.

Look for more on hired farm workers and ag labor shortages in Knutson's cover package.