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Easing Labor Pains

July 31, 2013 |

Growers, we know you’re all too familiar with the challenges accompanying securing enough labor to efficiently and economically plant and harvest your tobacco. Some of you who grew up on tobacco farms remember watching your own parents experience the same struggles finding help. “For my dad, recruiting labor was a year-round process,” said David Sutton, a reader in Goldsboro, N.C. “In December, we might run into somebody at the grocery store who’d helped out that summer, and Daddy would ask him if he could count on him for the following summer. He’d say ‘yes’ but then end up getting another job, and you’d be back to the drawing board.”

Most growers turn to the H-2A program, which delivers reliable and legal labor. But this solution adds mounting expenses and paperwork to the age-old concerns of getting and keeping the best labor. Meanwhile, smaller growers who don’t want to use H-2A labor struggle with identifying local help early in the season. They grapple to reach written or verbal agreements that may not hold up if workers are offered higher wages by nearby farmers during the slow times.

We’ve listened to your labor concerns, and in this issue we invite the best experts to help you sort them out.

In our “Lining Up Labor” feature on page 8, we talk to Andy Jackson, an attorney who specializes in H-2A law, to find out the pros and cons of using the program and how to navigate the H-2A process. Paul Denton, professor and
Extension specialist for burley tobacco production at the University of Tennessee, weighs in on the possibility of hiring crew leaders and advises how growers can protect themselves against the legal risks.

We also speak with Gary Bullen, an Extension associate at North Carolina State University, who says that, while no easy answers apply across the board, there are some things growers can try to ease labor’s financial burden. He offers a few suggestions in our “Getting Green for Your Green” department on page 16.

While labor concerns burn bright on these summer days, curing costs also warrant a hard look. On page 12, we examine a hot way to save on fuel costs during curing: biomass burners. We talk to North Carolina State University biological
and agricultural engineer Justin Macialek, who shares with us the latest research on this money-saving technology.

As usual, with “Meet What Eats Your Profit” on page 14, we take a closer look at a tiny terror snacking away in your fields. This month, we pass our magnifying glass over the tobacco budworm, a familiar face in fields across the country.

And finally, Donna Carver remembers the days when family farms had workers with four legs. Carver tells the story of how Mary and Kate, their family mules, were an integral piece of their farming operation—and just as much a part of their family—in our “Looking Back” column on page 17.

While budgeting for and finding the best labor can be a pain, the process isn’t insurmountable. Hopefully, you can use the tools here to sail through the bright days of summer. We’ll continue to keep our eyes peeled and our ears open to get the best information to your door.

 — Eleanor Spicer Rice Robin Sutton Anders

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