Local farmers keep an eye on potential immigration changes

GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) -- As President Donald Trump continues to implement new polices for immigration, farmers across northern Michigan are paying close attention, because they rely on migrant workers during harvest.

They say the new administration just comes with a lot of unknowns, and they're hoping more regulations are not put in place that would make it harder to get workers.

“It doesn't matter whether you're harvesting carrots or potatoes or whatever,” said Dean Johnson. “You need workers.”

Dean Johnson and his daughter Heatherlyn grow cherries and apples on Old Mission Peninsula.

Each summer, they’re forced to hire migrant workers. They say there’s just not the work force locally.

“Unfortunately that's the case,” said Johnson. “Sometimes we can get a few kids from school but as I mentioned they like to drive the tractors but they don't really want to pull tarps or do any of that heavy work.”

They go through the H2-A work visa program, which costs thousands of dollars on top of the $12.75 they must pay the workers an hour.

“We’ve got a ton of hoops to jump through,” said Johnson.

It's barely enough to make ends meet, since nationwide there is a major labor shortage.

“There's no way to share these workers,” said Heatherlyn Johnson Reamer. “Historically we often have Chateau Chantel, Chateau Grand Traverse come and say, ‘Hey can we use some of your workers just during harvest?’ but legally you can't do that under the H2-A program.”

They're hoping if the new administration makes any changes, it would be making these programs more user friendly.

“One that's not so cumbersome one that'll allow us to move back-and-forth rather easily,” said Johnson.

They say U.S. agriculture wouldn't survive without it.

“Securing the border is probably a given you really need to do that no matter what country you are,” said Johnson. “But a workable guest worker program that needs to be maintained, in order for the crops to be harvested really throughout this whole country.”

Johnson says the other tough thing with the H2-A program is that it's a contract. Growers must give specific dates about three months in advance on when they'll need the workers for harvest which is usually difficult to predict that precisely.

The H2-A program is only for agriculture workers. There is also a H2-B program for migrants that work in the hospitality or other non-agricultural jobs.

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