Texas Agriculture September 16, 2016 : Page 12

Promise of H-2A program wilting at Arnosky Family Farms By Gary Joiner Editor Frank Arnosky believes he could probably double his family farm’s business tomorrow if it only had more labor. He has the market for it. Missing are workers to harvest the farm’s commercial cut flowers that grow between Blanco and Wim-berley. Local workers aren’t interested. Only three area residents in the last 14 years have applied for the 120 har-vest jobs offered during that period. That leaves Arnosky and his wife Pamela, longtime Texas Farm Bu-reau members, relying on the federal H-2A visa program—a temporary work visa for foreign workers to per-form seasonal agricultural work in the U.S. Arnosky Family Farms currently has four H-2A workers harvesting flowers. More are desperately needed. The farm also employs eight resident workers—full-time or part-time—in other areas of the farm. Relying on the H-2A program also means growing increasingly frustrat-ed with administrative delays and inefficiencies. He said workers from Mexico were delayed four weeks this season by administrative hurdles and seemingly arbitrary decisions on a year-to-year application by federal administrators. The delay in arrival meant $40,000 in lost harvest pro-duction. “It’s an uphill battle every single year to get these visas. The program works, if it’s allowed to work, but there are so many administrative snags,” he said. “From a farmer’s point of view, it feels like you can nev-er get the process complete.” Arnosky noted the H-2A program and the larger issue of immigration are separate. As an employer, he provides worker housing and trans-portation. He’s subject to federal in-spections, audits and wage-and-hour reviews. In fact, the hourly wage paid to his H-2A workers is higher than the “living wage” recently adopted in San Francisco, Calif. “We’re doing the right thing. We don’t hire undocumented workers,” Arnosky said. “We want our workers to have a safe and secure way to come to work, work for us and then return home to Mexico. We also need a work-force we can count on.” Each of the H-2A positions filled on his farm also generates two American jobs. He said the impact statement holds true for many other farms as well. “H-2A isn’t taking away jobs. It’s producing jobs. Without our crew helping us harvest this, we don’t have people packing in the shed. We don’t have drivers. I can’t afford my farm manager. I don’t buy equipment, and I don’t buy supplies,” he said. “We generate a great deal of money into the economy with H-2A help. So, it’s very important.” Arnosky Family Farms grows about 75 different flowers on its 20 acres and in its 22 greenhouses. Its biggest sellers are sunflowers, zin-nias and marigolds. Mixed bouquets are produced year-round. The commercial cut flowers, identi-fied by the farm’s Big Blue Barn logo, are sold in grocery store chains in Texas and in three to four surround-ing states. The farm operates a small market at the corner of FM 2325 and FM 165 (16 miles west of Wimberley on FM 2325 or 8 miles east of Blanco on FM 165). 12 S EPTEMBER 16 , 2016

Promise of H-2A Program Wilting at Arnosky Family Farms

Gary Joiner

Frank Arnosky believes he could probably double his family farm’s business tomorrow if it only had more labor. He has the market for it.

Missing are workers to harvest the farm’s commercial cut flowers that grow between Blanco and Wimberley.

Local workers aren’t interested. Only three area residents in the last 14 years have applied for the 120 harvest jobs offered during that period.

That leaves Arnosky and his wife Pamela, longtime Texas Farm Bureau members, relying on the federal H-2A visa program—a temporary work visa for foreign workers to perform seasonal agricultural work in the U.S.

Arnosky Family Farms currently has four H-2A workers harvesting flowers. More are desperately needed. The farm also employs eight resident workers—full-time or part-time—in other areas of the farm.

Relying on the H-2A program also means growing increasingly frustrated with administrative delays and inefficiencies. He said workers from Mexico were delayed four weeks this season by administrative hurdles and seemingly arbitrary decisions on a year-to-year application by federal administrators. The delay in arrival meant $40,000 in lost harvest production.

“It’s an uphill battle every single year to get these visas. The program works, if it’s allowed to work, but there are so many administrative snags,” he said. “From a farmer’s point of view, it feels like you can never get the process complete.”

Arnosky noted the H-2A program Promise of H-2A program wilting at Arnosky Family Farms and the larger issue of immigration are separate. As an employer, he provides worker housing and transportation. He’s subject to federal inspections, audits and wage-and-hour reviews. In fact, the hourly wage paid to his H-2A workers is higher than the “living wage” recently adopted in San Francisco, Calif.

“We’re doing the right thing. We don’t hire undocumented workers,” Arnosky said. “We want our workers to have a safe and secure way to come to work, work for us and then return home to Mexico. We also need a workforce we can count on.”

Each of the H-2A positions filled on his farm also generates two American jobs. He said the impact statement holds true for many other farms as well.

“H-2A isn’t taking away jobs. It’s producing jobs. Without our crew helping us harvest this, we don’t have people packing in the shed. We don’t have drivers. I can’t afford my farm manager. I don’t buy equipment, and I don’t buy supplies,” he said. “We generate a great deal of money into the economy with H-2A help. So, it’s very important.”

Arnosky Family Farms grows about 75 different flowers on its 20 acres and in its 22 greenhouses. Its biggest sellers are sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds. Mixed bouquets are produced year-round.

The commercial cut flowers, identified by the farm’s Big Blue Barn logo, are sold in grocery store chains in Texas and in three to four surrounding states. The farm operates a small market at the corner of FM 2325 and FM 165 (16 miles west of Wimberley on FM 2325 or 8 miles east of Blanco on FM 165).

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Promise+of+H-2A+Program+Wilting+at+Arnosky+Family+Farms/2583637/337550/article.html.

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