IF YOU THINK visually of the term “labor pool,” you might imagine a nice clean swimming pool of people from which you can easily fish for talent that fits your needed job. But that’s far from reality these days. It’s harder to find talent and it’s harder to keep talent with younger generations gravitating toward cities and an overall decline in loyalty. This “labor pool” really is more of a muddy river and much harder for compa- nies to navigate. Wayne Gale, president of Stoke Seeds, says finding talent and keeping talent, be it management or farm laborers is a challenge. As a result, the vegetable seed sector could be looking at production constraints due to labor challenges. “Vegetable farming, unlike field crops, is very labor intensive with some opera- tions employing 200 to 300 staff,” Gale says. “Many of them are brought in on the farm labor program from Mexico and the Caribbean. Hiking them to the mandated minimum of $14 was a huge operational cost that cannot be passed down the value chain as many of the Ontario farms are in competition with foreign importers and Quebec operations that have no such increase in wages. “We have had a couple growers pack it in or reduce the labor-intensive parts of their business. Many decided to stay in for 2018 and see how they make out at year end before deciding — there’s no real trend so far but as we begin to book seed orders for next year, we will see who stays in.” As of Nov. 3, there were more than 7,500 job opening just on AgCareers. com. It isn’t just difficult to find help for the farm anymore. Labor is difficult to find in any season and in any industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is projected to increase by 11.5 million from 2016 to 2026. If realized, this means the number of U.S. jobs available would increase from 156.1 million to 167.6 million; however, much of this growth is expected to be in health care. This August, the number of job open- ings reached an all-time high with 7.1 million job openings on the last business day of the month. In comparison, there were only 5.8 million hires the entire month of August. “Labor seems to be a universal chal- lenge, or at least finding talent is,” says Michael Gunderson, professor of agri- culture economics at Purdue University. “Food and agribusinesses are looking for leadership types and day-to-day task workers. Especially in leadership roles, there’s a great deal of turnover due to retirement.” A universal challenge across all indus- tries is the retirement of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). Labor is not only more difficult to find but it’s also harder to keep. Alex Martin amartin@issuesink.com LABOR POOL MORE OF A MUDDY RIVER 56 / SEEDWORLD.COM DECEMBER 2018