Northern Michigan Farmers Impacted By Visa Program

Farmers in Northern Michigan are staying positive even with critical delays from the Department of Labor.

Right now, local farmers are looking forward to what could be a strong season.

But that could all go out the window if they don’t get the help to harvest their crops.

There was a delay in the H 2A visa program that put workers and farms behind schedule.

Sam Simpson, owner of Aurora Cellars, has been working since November to get workers through the H 2A visa program.

He went through all of the necessary steps and even hired a lawyer to make sure he could meet the deadline.

Still, his workers were a month late.

“We were supposed to have our workers here the last weekend in March, and they just arrived on Saturday,” said Simpson.

Farmers in Northern Michigan are feeling the impact from not having workers when they needed them, even after taking every step they could.

“We started applying to the H 2A program last November and spent the entire winter going through all the paperwork,” Simpson said. “We hired an agent, hired a law firm, went through all the process, met all the guidelines ahead of schedule, and the Department of Labor was unable to meet their own deadlines.”

And even though workers are there now, Aurora Cellars has to make up for a month’s worth of lost manpower and the money that goes with it.

“We’ve really been scrambling, you know, the crew that’s here now –we are really pushing long days trying to keep up,” Simpson said. “Mother nature’s been friendly in the fact that it’s been cool, and that hasn’t slowed things down. But we’ve definitely got some ground to make up.”

Simpson says that even though he is frustrated with the labor delay, he plans to use the program again in the future.

Apple farmers are also looking down the road.

“It could be pretty detrimental,” said Heatherlyn Johnson, bookkeeper at Johnson Farms. “I mean, a million pounds of apples it takes us on average 10 to 12 weeks to pick all that and that’s with a crew of 12 to 20 workers. If I only have 5 or 6 workers here, the crop will not get off the trees, so it’s pretty bad.”

Overall, the lack of workers could mean trouble for agriculture and people in our country. 

“What I don’t think the average American maybe doesn’t understand is that without these people who come in and do these hard jobs, there will not be food on your table, there will not be goods in the grocery stores,” Johnson said. “Food comes from the farm, and luckily in our area there’s a lot of strong farm-to-table in Northern Michigan, which is great. But without our crew, you know, we could go out of business.”