LOCAL NEWS

Sen. Romney Meets With Utah Farmers To Address Critical Worker Shortage

Jul 23, 2021, 7:10 PM | Updated: 9:18 pm

SANTAQUIN, Utah – An ongoing labor shortage has added to the troubles of Utah farmers who are also navigating a drought.

Sen. Mitt Romney met with some of those farmers in Payson Friday to discuss the labor shortage and possible solutions. 

Summer can be bittersweet, especially on a farm where it’s easy to get picked over. 

“So now the undocumented people don’t come over here,” one farmer explained to Romney during his visit to a cherry farm. 

The labor shortage affecting farms has everyone concerned, including Romney.

During their meeting with the Utah senator, farmers addressed concerns about the drought, but they said the most immediate challenge they face is finding workers to harvest their crops.

Curtis Rowley, owner of Cherry Hill Farms, said it has been about 10 years since he had someone apply for work on his farm.

Farmers said locals are just not interested in the physically demanding work on the farm.

For decades, Utah County farmers said they relied on undocumented workers, but that changed with a crackdown on employers to verify their employees legal status before giving them work.

“The big shift why we don’t get people anymore undocumented is they started E-verify. E-verify killed anybody from showing,” Rowley said, adding that undocumented workers fear of deportation keeps them from openly seeking work opportunities.

In recent years, farmers said they’ve turned to sponsoring foreign seasonal workers through the H-2A Visa Program. The program allows farmers to employ foreign workers on a temporary basis, usually for several months. It requires employers to pay the worker’s transportation to and from their host country, cover housing costs, and set a wage rate.

However, they feel the current system doesn’t work for all of agriculture and is antiquated. For example, fruit processing facilities and dairy farms whose operations are considered “year-round” are not allowed to employee H-2A workers.

Furthermore, they feel the H-2A application process is lengthy, which can be inefficient with farmer’s constantly evolving needs based on crop yield and weather.

“People here face some tough times they just can’t get labor. They need more people to come in to work. They would particularly like to get people coming in from Mexico legally, but the government slows down the process, makes it hard to hire workers,” said Romney. “If we can’t have workers, we’re not going to be able to feed our own people.”

Senator Mitt Romney meets with farmers in Utah County. (KSL TV) Workers in Utah under H2A visas can not work inside processing plants at farms. (KSL TV)ork inside processing plants. Farmer Kenyon Farley (KSL TV)

Romney said he supports immigration policies for foreign seasonal farmworkers.

“There are two parts of immigration that I think about. One is the people who want to come and make this their permanent home. The other is people who are willing to come here to pick our crops lettuce, cherries or apples,” Romney said. “They are willing to work on a temporary basis when we need it for harvest. We need those people. There’s no reason to limit those folks.”

Romney said he wants to help roll back the red tape farmers’ face. In an ideal world, he would give more local control on guest-worker visas.

“My own view is that each state should be able to go to the federal government and say, ‘This is the number of visas we need for our economy,'” he said.

“We need legal immigration in agriculture,” Romney added. “When I go back (to Washington, D.C.) I’m going to talk to two folks one the secretary of labor and the other the secretary of agriculture and say, ‘Look, we need to do a much better job with our visa program with agriculture workers coming in from Mexico.’”

Farmers like Sheryl Fowers, who runs a fruit ranch, said it’s about time.

“If we didn’t have the H2A workers, there would not be Utah fruit because there’s nobody else coming, knocking at the doors,” said Fowers, owner of Fowers Fruit Ranch LC.

Farmers said some farms are operating on only half of the manpower they need.

Currently, seasonal visa workers are only allowed to pick the fruit, so processing plants like Payson Growers rely on high school teens on summer break as well as specialized machines. However, farmers said they need more help, in particular, a skilled workforce. .

They said some tasks, like tending livestock and pruning or picking fresh produce, require a human hand.

For example, Kenyon Farley of Valley View Orchards, said he had to stop harvesting apples because of a lack of skilled field workers.

“My main crop for years was apples, and I literally had to get rid of it because I could not find help to harvest the apples. They’re more labor intensive than tart cherries,” Farley said.

In the end, farmers just hope to keep American-grown food on our tables.

“Most of the immigrants are willing to work in agriculture. There’s a real need for them. If we want a fresh salad bar, it’s the only way we’re going to have it,” Farley said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Joel Baker, 33, died Nov. 12 when a cement truck heading south on...
Pat Reavy

Cement truck driver charged with manslaughter in death of sheriff’s deputy

A cement truck driver who police say ran two red lights in November and crashed into a Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputy on his way to work, killing him, has been criminally charged.
17 hours ago
West Valley City police car...
Cary Schwanitz

Man in custody after firing shots, police chase in West Valley City

One man was arrested Friday after firing shots in West Valley City and leading police on a chase.
17 hours ago
(Chopper 5/KSL TV)...
Josh Ellis

Greatest snow on Earth: Utah’s snowpack hits record high

Things are about as good as it can get for the Greatest Snow on Earth: Utah has set a record for its statewide snowpack, passing the previous mark set 40 years ago.
17 hours ago
FILE PHOTO: The Chickadee lift is pictured at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Thursday, Oct...
Madison Swenson

Interlodge in effect at Snowbird, Alta Ski Area

Two ski resorts in Little Cottonwood Canyon are now under interlodge protocol due to active storms in the area.
17 hours ago
(KSL TV)...
Karah Brackin

KSL TV flies with all-female medical flight crew from Ogden

A medical flight crew based out of Ogden is making a name for itself as an all-female crew.
17 hours ago
A man shot himself when police arrived to serve a search warrant in an investigation involving chil...
Brooke Williams

Police: Grantsville man shot himself upon police serving search warrant

A man shot himself when police arrived to serve a search warrant in an investigation involving child sexual abuse material.
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Sen. Romney Meets With Utah Farmers To Address Critical Worker Shortage