Indiana is the fourth leading producer of turkeys in the U.S. – and with the busy Thanksgiving production season in full swing, the state’s poultry producers are faced with a labor shortage. That’s why Indiana’s poultry industry is asking for help from lawmakers.
“We just plain and simple don’t have enough workers to do all the work we have here in Indiana,” says Rebecca Joniskan, President of the Indiana State Poultry Association. Farm operations hiring temporary workers from other countries can only use those workers for several months out of the year. While that may work for seasonal jobs at fruit and vegetable farms, the livestock industry is trying to get legislation passed that would allow those workers to stay on the job year-round.
“These are live animals. You can’t just tell the birds to idle and stop growing and stop producing eggs. This is a living system that is very scheduled and planned. It can’t just stop on a dime and wait for labor to arrive. So, it has very real and immediate effects up and down the food supply chain,” says Joniskan.
She says a labor shortage at the farms means fewer turkeys are available at the grocery stores for your Thanksgiving dinner.
“Sometimes at the processing facilities, if we don’t have enough workers, we’re just not able to provide our customers with the cuts of poultry and packaging that they expect,” according to Joniskan. “So, it limits our ability to satisfy our customers and the consumers at the grocery.”
To try and solve that problem, the U.S. House in March 2021 passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would modify the current H-2A work visa program. Joniskan and others in the ag industry are now asking lawmakers in the U.S. Senate to pass the bill as well.
“Within it are programs that can really plug some gaps in this system and help support our work and our workers. We very much appreciate the efforts of Representative Jim Baird in the House and we encourage Senators Todd Young and Mike Braun from Indiana to throw their support behind it as well.”
She adds getting the bill across the finish line will help make sure enough turkeys are on the table for Thanksgiving and Christmas going forward.
“We want to make sure that when our turkeys, ducks, chickens and eggs are ready, those products are on the menu and they’re in the grocers’ case for people to be able to pick up take home and enjoy,” says Joniskan.
Click BELOW to hear C.J. Miller’s news report and audio from Rebecca Joniskan – President of the Indiana State Poultry Association – as she talks about the impact of a labor shortage on Indiana’s poultry producers.