Despite competitive wages and an expanding workforce, the U.S. pork industry continues to struggle with a labor shortage that will require access to more foreign-born workers to remain sustainable, according to a study by Iowa State University economists….
According to the study, from 2001-2020, employment in the U.S. pork industry grew by an annual rate of 1.5 percent, four times faster than employment growth in all U.S. industries. Despite expanded wages and jobs, the U.S. pork industry is facing a significant domestic labor shortage due to a dwindling and aging rural labor population where hog farms and harvest facilities are located, the study noted. From 2014-2019, the rural labor force shrank in five of the eight top pork-producing states, it found.
Foreign-born workers have been critical to the U.S. pork industry’s economic growth, the study found. “In many rural labor markets, immigrant workers have lessened the negative effect of net out-migration, helping to keep rural communities in these markets economically viable.” However, pork producers continue to struggle with ongoing labor shortages, and native-born workers and permanent residents cannot offset the need for foreign-born employees, the study concluded….
Current visa programs designed for seasonal agriculture—such as the H-2A visa—fail to meet the workforce needs of U.S. pork producers and other year-round livestock farmers. To address the labor shortage, NPPC is advocating for year-round access to the H-2A visa program without a cap [National Pork Producers Council, press release, 2021.08.04].
Here’s the graph from the Iowa State study showing the rural workforce changes in those eight top pork-producing states (of which South Dakota is not one):
This need for immigrant labor is nothing new for Big Ag or for rural South Dakota in general. With all of us local folks getting older and having fewer babies, the only way to fully staff the industries producing all the goods and services we want to consume is to import workers from elsewhere. Politicians who campaign against immigration are thus campaigning against rural America’s economic survival.