“If you think a millennial in this country is going to work in a stinky chicken farm six days a week for up to 12 hours a day in triple digit temperatures, it’s not going to happen.”
So said Jim Manos, Chief Financial Officer of Hickman’s Family Farms in Buckeye - a facility that processes a staggering three-quarters-of-a-million eggs per hour.
He was speaking at the recent annual meeting of the Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona in Tempe, during which three industry experts gave talks under the title of 'What We Need In Comprehensive Immigration Reform'.
The speakers were all in agreement about one thing: it is becoming more and more difficult to find people willing to work in agriculture. Fewer people are interested in working in the dairy and egg industries.
Manos added: "It’s not necessarily that the people aren’t available, it’s that they don’t want to work, or at least work for us.
"So we need to change our thinking about how we can guarantee a labor pool."
Paul Rovey, a dairy operator from Glendale who represents the United Dairymen of Arizona, added: "In the dairy industry, we’ve already moved through a workforce crisis that has now achieved the level of a catastrophe.
"Over half of the U.S. dairy farm labor pool is comprised of foreign-born workers and our industry today cannot operate without immigrant workers."
To address the crisis, Wisconsin state’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is spearheading an initiative which sees prison inmates undertake an eight week training program created through a partnership between the department of corrections and Moraine Park Technical College.
Participants are reportedly taught how to raise calves, grow crops to feed cows and the basics of dairy farm operations.
Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary, Jon Litscher, said: "We know that if they have gainful employment and employment where people want those skills they have a better chance at success as it relates to reintegration into their communities."
But will this address the issue longterm? As Rovey says: "Despite unemployment rates, we can’t find enough American workers to fill our job needs—they’re just not interested in working on a dairy farm."