Gov. Kathy Hochul’s call to expedite work permits for new migrants to work on farms has some in the agriculture industry worried about the migrants having the right skillset.

Hochul said this week that there are more than 5,000 jobs in agriculture in upstate New York.  

“The cows don’t wait to be milk, the plants need to be maintained and harvested in a few months,” Hochul said.  

Kim Skellie, an owner of El-Vi dairy in Newark, and the new migrants could help widen the pool of applicants, but only if they have needed skillsets to work on the farm.

“We like to hire people who have the proper identification, but also come with some skillset and work ethic for work on the farm. We do train, but it takes some level of skill to work on a farm,” he said. 

Skellie said their farm hasn’t seen struggles with labor shortages, but others have.  

“It’s been tough, Americans have shied away from the more physically demanding farm labor, so we have had to rely on foreign laborers,” he said. “The H-2A program is for seasonal workers, which really isn’t what dairy is so there are dairy farms struggling to find laborers.”  

New York Farm Bureau president David Fisher said in a statement that they have been calling for immigration reform to help with ongoing labor issues and that approving expedited work visas would only be a temporary fix for a larger problem.  

Mary Jo Dudley, director for Cornell University’s farmworker program, said producers are concerned about training this workforce.  

“They don’t see this group of migrants playing a role in meeting labor shortages in part because they’re unclear about how they would transition an unskilled workforce to become a skilled workforce in a short period of time,” Dudley said. 

Another concern is farms being able to provide enough housing and other resources for the migrants, she said. 

“If they don’t already have extra housing, they don’t have a way to accommodate additional people,” she said.