Hired Hands Idle Down on the Farm

Guest workers seeing fewer job opportunities

By Jack Heinbaugh
|  Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010  |  Updated 1:31 PM EDT
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Hired Hands Idle Down on the Farm

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Help wanted, but guest workers from foreign countries need not apply.

Would-be applicants can thank Uncle Sam.

For the first time in more than 15 years, Campbell County, Va., farmer Kevin Trent is not hiring farm hands from other countries. Instead, he's cutting back his tobacco crop.

He used to farm 35 acres. This year he'll work just 10 acres.

The federal program that facilitates the hiring of guest agricultural workers got to be too expensive, Trent said.

Trent is one of several farmers in Campbell County who employed guest workers through the H2A program administered by the  Department of Labor.

It sets a minimum wage for farm jobs to keep foreign workers from driving down the wages of domestic workers.

New rules under President Barack Obama's administration raised the minimum wage for guest workers to $9.59 per hour. Farmers also give the workers housing and transportation.

Under former President George W. Bush's administration, the minimum wage was $9.02 per hour.

The decision to cut back on his crop and avoid hiring guest workers was an easy one, Trent said.

"We hate not to produce what we are capable of producing, but it's got to make financial sense for us to do it," he said.

Tobacco companies offered less money to growers this year, Trent said.

A nearby nursery and orchard business is also worried about how that company will be affected by the rules change.

Nursery and fruit sales are down right now, said Jim Saunders, the personnel manager of Saunders Brothers Nursery and Orchard in Nelson County.

"Most wages in the United States are going down," he said. "I question why this wage rate's going up."

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