Breaking News
More () »

Farmers, ranchers push for changes to H-2A visa program to hire workers

In the middle of harvest season, finding the labor to complete everything can be challenging.

DENVER — Palisade peaches, Pueblo chiles, and Rocky Ford melons all have one thing in common: the farmers who grow them say there isn’t enough labor to get the work done. Now, an industry that relies heavily on seasonal workers is asking Congress to change the visa program that lets foreign workers come to America.

"It is absolutely critical to have a strong workforce," said Dan Waldvogle, director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. "There’s a lot of long hours, it’s demanding."

Farmers across Colorado find themselves harvesting their crops while wishing there was more help.  

For five generations Bruce Talbott and his family have produced peaches and wine in Palisade. They rely on seasonal workers from outside the country to travel here every summer for the harvest. The H-2A visa they arrive on is crucial.

"We wouldn’t be growing peaches today if we didn’t have access to that program," said Talbott. "We are 100% dependent on H-2A. My field crew is 90% H-2A."

Farmers and ranchers in Colorado say they hire the majority of their workers using programs like H-2A. But they say it’s expensive, bureaucratic and increasingly harder to get enough people to finish the jobs. 

"We need to have a guest worker program, we need path to citizenship for folks, and then we need to have options like H-2A," said Waldvogle. "Currently it’s a temporary program and a lot of our operations in the state are year-round. It’s also a lot of administrative work that needs to be done in order to secure those visas, and it’s also just costly in general."

This weekend, Waldvogle met with Democratic Congresswoman Yadira Caraveo to try and come up with solutions. They’re asking for changes to make it easier and cheaper to get the labor they need. 

Zach Riley with the Colorado Livestock Association was also there.

"The red tape is a mile long and it is almost impossible to get somebody here and keep somebody here," said Riley. "When you start curtailing labor availability and people who want to do jobs and do work, you end agrobusiness by and large on the local level in this state."

It’s a topic that’s become entrenched in politics around the country.

"For some reason, seasonal work and farm work has been coupled to immigration reform by and large," said Riley. "People are conflating border security and immigration problems with H-2A and seasonal work for people who want to come and work and make good money and go home."

Caraveo is a Democrat taking on this cause to reform a program that often impacts the more conservative parts of her district. Today her office told us she hopes to shorten processing times, increase the number of people who can come here to work on visas, and ensure there are safe conditions for workers.

From peaches to melons, and chiles to potatoes, Colorado is only famous for its crops because of the workers who harvest them.

"We wouldn’t be growing peaches today if we didn’t have access to that program," said Talbott. 

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

Before You Leave, Check This Out