Orchardist: Let workers in
US needs better way to hire help, grower says
A guest-worker program would be of the greatest help to the western Colorado fruitgrowing industry, said a Palisade-area grower and packer.
The H2A visa program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor — on which many farmers and growers rely — is unwieldy, ill-administered and inflexible, said Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms.
A guest-worker program could be better tailored to meet the needs of workers and employers while avoiding the complications of paths to citizenship and other issues that have cropped up with visa holders and illegal immigration, Talbott said during a tour of the Talbott family’s east Orchard Mesa facility.
The H2A system was “designed to fail,” Talbott said. “If you’re desperate enough, you’ll use it.”
He has done so this year and so far is prepared for the harvest beginning in August, Talbott said.
That doesn’t mean things couldn’t be easier and better, he said.
To prepare to bring in workers, many if not most of whom he has worked with for years, he and other fruitgrowers have to be ready in October to bring in the work force they hope to employ in February.
Talbott pays about $10,000 a year with a company — the same one Donald Trump uses to bring in labor at his Virginia winery, Talbott said — to make arrangements for his work force.
If the paperwork is done, his workers gather in Monterrey, Mexico, for the ride to Palisade, where they will begin pruning trees and preparing for the growing season. While all of them arrive together, they return home on different schedules and on the Talbott dime, each of them having made about $12,000, he said.
It’s not infrequently that he learns a longtime employee won’t appear in Monterrey because the employee has earned enough to pay off his own farm or small business, Talbott said.
His foreign workers by and large are reliable, with perhaps two out of 100 failing to complete their contracts, Talbott said.
Corresponding workers from the United States rarely succeed at similar contracts, with perhaps two of 100 completing their deals. Even that figure is misleading because the ones who complete their contracts frequently do so working as mechanics or other work not directly involved with the harvest, Talbott said.
A guest-worker program administered by the Department of Agriculture could allow for more flexibility by allowing at-will employment, making it possible for employers to jointly provide work to foreign employees, he said.
A guest-worker program could be shown to be viable if it contained “no incentive to bypass it,” unlike the current system, which has made the agriculture industry in many respects dependent on illegal immigration, he said.
The Colorado Farm Bureau is working to keep the attention of Congress on immigration, said Shawn Martini, director of advocacy.