More Delaware agriculture employees could be in demand soon

DOVER — When the prime harvest season arrives, growers need an infusion of workers to come with it.

“There aren’t any issues at this point, but in a couple months there will be a significant need for workers,” Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said.

Mr. Scuse said the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of State are working to provide an effective H-2A visa program. The program allows foreign nationals to fill temporary agricultural jobs for businesses in the United States.

H-2A workers are most needed May to October for fruit and vegetable harvests, Mr. Scuse said.

“Some producers are using locals but the H-2A is vital to bring in workers from other countries and Mexico is an especially large source,” he said. “They’re working at the federal level to allow for tapping into that.”

On March 20, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the immediate and temporary suspension of the H-2A premium processing service, due to the coronavirus spread.

“Right now I have not heard of any issues,” he said. “The great fear is the unknown of what workforce resources will be available later in the year.”

The sweet corn harvest typically begins in June, Mr. Scuse said, and watermelons come in July. Asparagus is available right now due to a mild winter and the strawberry season hits in May.

Chicken laborers needed

According to Delmarva Poultry Industries Inc. Executive Director Holly Porter, regional chicken companies had more than 20,000 employees in 2019.

DPI’s coverage area includes Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia.

“Laborers are always needed and now more than ever,” she said. “All five of the processing companies are hiring at various levels and positions, including full-time, part-time and day and evening shifts.”

More employment information is available on company websites, Ms. Porter said.

A majority of Mountaire Farms’ nearly 10,000 employees are working inside chicken processing plants in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas. Others work in feed mills, grain storage facilities, hatcheries, truck maintenance shop, and the corporate office, spokeswoman Catherine Bassett said.

“Our employees are resilient, and while we’ve seen some attendance issues, for the most part, our teams are holding strong to support our communities,” Ms. Bassett said.

At the start of this work week, Perdue Farms spokeswoman Diana Souder said “we’ve not had any major disruptions due to COVID-19 and remain focused on the health of our associates.”

Ms. Souder said Perdue Farms recently switched a planned product-focused ad campaign with a video message from Chairman Jim Perdue. The message saluted employees “who are rarely seen, even more rarely thanked, yet they’re always there when we need them the most.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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