A WNY solution to the lack of labor on farms

EDEN, N.Y. (WKBW) - Farm labor has been an issue at farms in Western New York for years. This year new problems are making that issue even worse. But there may be a homegrown solution to the problem of not enough hands on the farm.

"We have had issues for years with trying to find adequate labor," Eden farmer Dennis Brawdy said.

It's a problem made worse for Brawdy and his farm, since the federal government has had problems with issuing temporary work visas for migrant labor over the last month, just as the growing season ramps up.

"We need a lot of pickers and we need a lot of people to work on a packing line to sort, pack, and ship based on what the customer requirements are," Brawdey added.

The farmer says most people simply don't want to work the hours and do the labor. The Cornell Cooperative Extension saw that need and paired it with the large and growing refugee population in Buffalo.

"The program is called "refugee onsite occupational training," or ROOT for short," Megan Burley of the Extension said Tuesday.

ROOT is a pilot program giving refugees the chance to work on the farm through Journey's End Refugee Services.

"They have crops out there that need harvesting, and we need a workforce to harvest those crops, and we need food at grocery stores. So this is hopefully a solution," Burley added.

"It's always been an immigrant business. It just seems that that's kind of the way it is, and it's changed over the years, and hopefully this is the next change for us so we'll tap into a new group of folks and we'll be set for awhile," Brawdy explained.

From a financial standpoint, the workers get paid starting at nine dollars an hour, and therefore don't have to rely on public assistance.

"It's not replacing the labor that's there, it's involving new labor especially for farms that are expanding," Burley said.

Plus with locally grown produce, the cost of those tomatoes doesn't go up.

"We have to have labor to stay competitive. If we don't have labor we won't produce, but someone else somewhere else will," Brawdy added.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension says they've already received interest from other counties in New York as well as other states, and if the program succeeds, it is expected to take off quickly.




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