Business as usual for farms awaiting workforce to help with planting season

Posted at 11:43 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 14:53:07-04

PUEBLO — While the pandemic has slowly churned some industries to a halt, local farms are pushing ahead. And the reason they can afford to do that is because of their workers.

A vast majority of them will be arriving from abroad through a special visa program. Even though nothing's changed, there's still some concern about what could happen if it did.

"It's really not affecting us too much right now," said Shane Milberger, the owner and operator of Milberger Farms. "This time, the spring time, we're out doing dirtwork, we're preparing the land for planting. We are planting."

At Mauro Farms down the road, it's another busy afternoon.

"My brother is planting the field as normal," said Carla Houghton, manager of Mauro Farms.

As these farms head into May and the planting season goes into full swing, they'll be even busier planting some of their most sought-after crops, like the famous Pueblo chile.

Except, the folks who will make it happen aren't here yet. Half of Milberger's workforce will arrive in early May and workers at Mauro farms will also arrive by then.

"There was a fear that we wouldn't be able to get our labor in," Houghton explained. "But we've been assured that that's not the case."

These temporary workers are part of the H2A Program, which allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. for a seasonal agricultural job.

"This is a very strenuous job," Milberger described. "That's why the H2A program is in effect for the agricultural industries. If we cannot get a substantial labor force, we'll go out of business."

The one thing these workers can offer to keep these farms afloat: "Commitment," Milberger said. "That is the biggest thing that a farm needs. Commitment."

Even though these farms are willing to hire within the community, they need a long-term commitment until at least November. They say that can be hard to find.

"These farms cannot run unless we have the people like these men that come over that are willing to do the work we do on a daily basis," Houghton said.

So for now, they wait.

"We'll see how things go," Houghton added. "One day at a time."