A farmer recently contacted me about using Maryland FarmLINK to post the need for a farm worker. I encouraged him to do so and noted that there is no charge to post on the farm forum.

workersAvailability of farm labor is a common concern. If you are not genuinely interested in farming, farm labor may not be the most appealing work. Farm laborers can face extreme heat and cold conditions. The wages are low and the physical work can be back-breaking. In the U.S., many farmers have addressed the challenge by hiring both documented and undocumented migrant laborers. A recent USDA report estimates that roughly 50% of all farm workers are “not legally authorized to work in the U.S.”

A number of farmers in our region have successfully in found workers by focusing on the training aspect of farm work. As I reported last year, New Morning Farm is largely run by paid apprentices who learn the trade and are responsible for a portion of the organic vegetable production too. Even’ Star Organic Farm is located near St. Mary’s College and employees many college students.  Most did not grow up on a farm, but many have chosen to go into agricultural work after college. Another farmer I know interviews candidate workers to find out what motivates them to work on his farm. If they are not interested in farming, they are not asked to return.

The State of Maryland Agricultural Outreach Plan documents Maryland’s efforts to monitor farmlaborand assist migrant laborers in Maryland. According to the Plan, there are three major agricultural sectors that employ migrant workers: nursery stock, vegetable farms, and fruit orchards. The authors estimate that “these three crop activities may employ approximately 1200 migrant and seasonal workers across the state from March through November.”

That is a very small percentage of roughly one million farm workers in the U.S. According to the USDA Farm Labor Survey, “Hired farmworkers (including agricultural service workers) make up a third of all those working on farms; the other two-thirds are self-employed farm operators and their family members. The majority of hired farmworkers are found on the nation’s largest farms, with sales over $500,000 per year.” My suspicion is that most Maryland farms fit in the category of self-employed farm operators and family members.

Maryland farmers needing help might want to post on Maryland FarmLINK’s Farm Forum or they might want to try out the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s website Agriculture Employers and Workers. My bet is that the best workers that they will find are those who share their love for the land and local food.