Stan Kaiser has worked with cattle for most of his life. He loves the rewards of a full day’s work.
His son and wife help run Golden Belt Feeders in St. John in Stafford County. But with 23,000 head of cattle and quite a few acres of crops, they must hire others to help.
Each year it gets harder and harder for Kaiser to find workers.
“It’s about 30% worse this year,” Kaiser said. “We’ve run ads. We have trouble filling full-time workers.”
Kaiser said he needs cowboys. Although he has a great group of men, he could use many more, especially CDL drivers — licensed truck drivers who haul oil, cattle, fertilizer and grains.
“Finding qualified CDL drivers has been an ongoing challenge,” said Brian Briggeman, director of the Arthur Capper Cooperative Center at Kansas State University.
Briggeman said finding these drivers is difficult in other Midwestern states as well.
“In Kansas, we’ve never had a job problem — jobs are there; we have a lack of employee issue,” Briggeman said. “It’s not any different than in other years.”
Morning Star Farms in Greensburg in Kiowa County is battling the same situation. Along with running a cattle-herd, stocker operation, the farm grows hay and alfalfa.
“We’re always looking for good employees,” said Leslie Stotts, co-owner of the operation. “It’s always a challenge for people who want to live in the middle of nowhere.”
Briggeman doesn’t see the coronavirus affecting agricultural employment — for now.
The USDA reports that as the number of self-employed and family farm workers has decreased, the number of hired farm workers has increased. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports farm employment for Kansas in 2018 as slightly more than 63,000.
Briggeman said many farmers in western Kansas applied for H-2A temporary workers and received permission before COVID-19 hit.
According to the USDA, one of the clearest indicators of the scarcity of farm labor is that the number of nationwide H-2A positions has increased dramatically during the past 14 years, from a little more than 48,000 in 2005 to nearly 258,000 in 2019. As of 2018, 65% of all agricultural workers were U.S. citizens with an average farm wage of $14 per hour. The USDA notes more than 80% of hired crop farm workers aren’t migrant workers.
What Briggeman is concerned about are the long-term effects of people collecting an unemployment check because of the coronavirus.
“Does that limit future labor?” he asked. “That’s always the concern that I have.”
Some smaller farms are faring better with workers this year.
Ferguson ZY Farms in Kensington in Smith County is in need of CDL drivers but is all set with other workers. Desiree Ferguson, who along with her husband, Kerry, runs cattle and grows wheat, corn, milo and soybeans, said many of her friends are in the same boat.
“Right now, farmers are not making money, so I don’t think they need help,” Ferguson said.
For Danny Forsyth, of Forsyth Land & Cattle of Wakefield in Clay County, it’s all about family and community helping out during planting and harvesting time. He and his father run this wheat, soy, alfalfa and cow/calf operation.
“We always have a lot of people who like to come out and help,” Forsyth said.