Shortage of farmhands causes some farmers to lose crops
Late August is harvest crunch time for many Maine farmers, including Jim Buckle of Buckle Farm in Unity.
Right now, the lush fields at the farm he and his fiancee Hannah Rose Hamilton run are awash in ripening organic produce, including tomatoes, onions, cantaloupe, lettuce mixes, baby turnips, carrots, beets, mixed herbs and potatoes. But there’s a big problem: Usually, the couple would be working alongside three farmhands this time of year. Now, they are down to just one.
“We are losing crops in the field. We are swamped,” Buckle said. “Farmhands are just not even available. It’s freaking me out now, I’ll tell you that. It’s a problem for us. … It’s creating 16 to 18 hour days right now for Hannah and I. I think this year has been an eye opener for a lot of people. We don’t have the people, and so we’re going to have to farm differently.”
Buckle and Hamilton are far from alone in Maine, where many farmers are struggling to find enough workers to pick their harvest and get it to market. The farmhand shortage is affecting farmers who specialize in produce and those who work mostly with livestock. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will hold an emergency listening session on Thursday, Aug. 30, to hear more from farmers about how the labor shortage is affecting them and learn more about what they could do to help.