Potato harvest

A tractor-pulled potato harvester loads a truck trailer Sunday afternoon in a CSS Farms field east of the company’s warehouses along Highway 10. Three of the seven harvester operators on two crews — one with three and one with four — are from South Africa.

MINDEN — Finding year-round and seasonal help is a growing issue for ag production businesses ranging from multi-state corporations to family-owned farms and ranches.

“We’re having a heck of a time finding help,” said Ben Zechmann, Minden farm manager for CSS Farms.

He employs 17 full-time employees who oversee planting, growing season management, harvesting, warehousing and shipping of chip potatoes.

A few part-time workers help with spring planting and then drill cereal rye seeds immediately after fields are harvested to establish a cover crop. Temporary employees needed at harvest time boost the work crew to 70-75.

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As operators of harvest machines, trucks, conveyors and sorting stations to remove plant materials and damaged potatoes worked Sunday afternoon, Zechmann said he was short four crew positions.

Seven harvest machine operators are working in two crews and Zechmann said three are from South Africa.

South Africans have been hired by CSS Farms for several years. They have the skills required and the time to come to Nebraska for several weeks because farming seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.

It helps, but the harvest crew still wasn’t at full strength.

“This labor thing is almost getting out of control. I need people for six weeks of a year,” Zechmann said.

He’s considering offering jobs to more foreign workers through the H-2A program. It allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.

The jobs must be temporary or seasonal. Also, employers must demonstrate that there are not enough workers able, willing, qualified and available to do the temporary work, and that employing H-2A workers won’t adversely affect wages or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

Zechmann said the major issue in seeking such workers is being able to provide temporary housing.