If you asked someone if they’re a good worker, they’d probably say that they are. I don’t know many people who would admit to being lazy or a slacker.

But, one thing that I keep hearing time and time again is that good workers are hard to find. I heard it again this past week on the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation trip to Washington, D.C. Farmers have jobs that need done, and they’re struggling to find hard working, dedicated employees to do those jobs.

I’ve met farmers over the years who gave up baling hay or milking cows, because they could no longer find adequate help to do these things. With fewer and fewer people who understand farming, or have it in their background — the situation isn’t getting any better.

One of the policies farm bureau members lobbied for last week was immigration reform that would allow immigrants to be granted work authorization. This would not include citizenship, necessarily, but would give farm operators the opportunity to hire foreign workers legally.

I know we have a lot of unemployment in our own country — about 7.7 percent. And I’m from the camp that would much rather see U.S. citizens do these jobs, first. But, for whatever reason, they’re not.

Immigrant labor

Kristi Boswell, congressional relations director with American Farm Bureau Federation, estimated about 70 percent of the ag workforce currently are undocumented workers.

She said AFBF is staying out of the discussion about whether such workers should be made citizens, but the organization believes strongly in making them “authorized workers” for a set time period.

Agriculture needs legal immigrant labor, she said, because immigrants do work that Americans are unwilling to.

“The reality is it’s hard work, it’s seasonal work, it’s transitory work, it’s in rural areas and domestic workers for better or worse just aren’t doing this work,” she said.

One of the farm bureau presidents told me he can’t understand this. One theory, he guessed, is that the work on some farms is too strenuous and too dirty for Americans to handle. Another theory, he said, is that Americans don’t want to work next to foreign workers.

A third theory, he said, is that Americans who are unemployed find that it easier to collect government handouts like food stamps and welfare, than to work on farms.

I don’t know which is correct, or maybe it’s something else altogether. But it definitely speaks to me when we’re trying to put Americans to work, because we have jobs that need done, yet we’re going over the border to find people who are willing to do these jobs.

Worker ethic

The same (county) farm bureau president told me he doesn’t know the answer, either. But the one thing he and I agreed on is there needs to be a stronger work ethic in this country. An ethic of people who want to work, to make their own money and pay their own bills, even if they have to get dirty to do so.

small hay bales

Maybe this means cutting back on some of federal handouts. For the record, about 80 percent of the “farm bill” now goes to food stamps and nutrition programming. And we have a record number of Americans on food stamps, at roughly 47 million.

Maybe we need to do a better job of checking up on the people who receive handouts — to make sure they’re going for the things they’re supposed to.

Or maybe we just need to spend a little more time teaching people how to work, and that old Biblical principle, “if a man is unwilling to work, he shall not eat.”

I didn’t hear from anyone on the trip who wanted to eliminate food stamps or welfare programs. The Bible also tells us to take care of the poor, and that from whom much is given, much is required.

But we have a problem when we have jobs and opportunities and it’s easier to pass them by than to do them.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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