Haslam Scholars Projects

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United States (U.S.) fruit and vegetable farms depend heavily on labor for the production of the crops they grow and sell. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for farms to obtain the labor they need to produce their crops. Therefore, labor management strategies have become critical in determining the profitability and long-term sustainability of farms specializing in the production of fruits and vegetables. These strategies are even more significant for smaller farms that face resource constraints that inhibit their use of alternative labor sources (e.g., migrant workers) or their ability to reduce their reliance on labor through mechanization. Using secondary data from the U.S. Department of Labor and primary data collected through a survey of fruit and vegetable farms located in the middle and west Tennessee regions, this study investigates the use of labor, specifically the use of migrant labor through the H-2A guest worker program, the labor challenges faced, and the labor strategies used to address these challenges by Tennessee fruit and vegetable farms. Results suggest that the use of H-2A workers among Tennessee fruit and vegetable farms is low compared to other states due to farm size and farm-specific labor needs. The survey data suggest that the number of workers per farm increases with the size of the operation and that smaller farmers are more likely to rely on unpaid workers (e.g., family, volunteers) compared to larger operations. The majority of survey respondents indicated that difficulty finding reliable workers and failure to generate enough revenue to hire employees are the most important labor challenges they face. Among respondents, the most common labor management strategies used to address these challenges are the adoption of mechanized technologies and the decision to forego potential expansion plans.

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