JENNY KROHN, HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER
It’s surely no secret that businesses all over the U.S. are all facing a common problem right now – labor shortages. Particularly for our co-op, we are seeing this issue arise in the fact that it’s tougher to hire seasonal positions and know that we have turnover coming in the future due to retirements. We knew we had to start planning for the future. In true UFC fashion, when there’s a problem, we find a solution. After researching our options, we decided to move forward with the H2A visa program to bring in seasonal agricultural workers.
This process definitely had its challenges. I’ll admit I was hesitant at first, worried about all of the unknowns and additional workload. Other local coops had tried and failed to get approval, but we were determined to make it work.
We began the application process back in December 2022. First, we researched and chose an agency to assist us, settling on USA Farm Labor. Next, we applied for a Farm Labor Contractors License, which normally takes 8 months, but with help from Congressman Brad Finstad, we got approved in just 2 weeks! We then submitted our H2A application, requesting workers for the summer months.
After deciding to recruit from South Africa, we located suitable housing. In May, our first group of 5 workers flew over, with 1 more joining as an in-country transfer. One worker ended up leaving due to homesickness, but we quickly filled his spot with another transfer.
It’s difficult to uproot and leave your family to go work in an entirely different continent. Some may wonder why these individuals would leave their families for 10 months. But as minorities in South Africa, these workers have limited job opportunities and income to support their families. The H2A program allows them to earn a living wage, something that is seen as a great opportunity to them.
I’m proud to say the program has been a huge success! Our South African employees have been exceptional additions to the team. Their strong work ethic is appreciated across the co-op and has been motivating for all members of the UFC team. Our staff and community welcomed them with open arms.
Five workers will return home later this month, while one is transferring to an Illinois ranch for the winter through the program. He’ll be back at UFC in February!
Despite the initial hurdles, pursuing the H2A visa program was well worth it. We’re thrilled to have found a solution to fill seasonal positions and assist dedicated workers in supporting their families. The process has gone smoothly and these employees are invaluable assets. Our future at United Farmers Cooperative is looking brighter thanks to the H2A program!