County Ag Report - A Shortage of Workers is Impacting the Ag Community

Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 1:12 PM EST
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“I think since covid, the word of the day when it comes to looking for employees, is applicant flow. So, we look at how many people are applying on a weekly basis.”

Like many other businesses across Aroostook County, Pineland Farms Potato Company in Mars Hill, has been dealing with a worker shortage, and plant manager, Shawn Lovley, says finding help is a big challenge.

“It’s been tough to get folks. We do a lot of demographic research. Baby Boomers are retiring at a fast rate. There’s a lot of jobs out there. Prior to Covid we were one hundred percent staffed. I’ll use the last six months for an example, we’ve been short twenty-five to thirty people overall, which is approximately twenty percent of our workforce. So, if you have a shift that you require twenty-eight people, we’re typically staffed at eighteen to twenty people.”

Like Lovley, Jeannie Tapley, Director of Operations at the Maine Potato Board, also sees a connection between the arrival of Covid-19, and the workforce challenges faced by the ag community today.

[Jeannie Tapley, Director of Operations, Maine Potato Board] “I think Covid changed things just because, for one it shut everything down for such a long period of time. As well, it gave a lot of options for work at home, so there was a lot of things in to play there”

Tapley says that many farmers are looking to technology to help make up for the shortage of workers.

“A lot of our growers are just looking to that more just because they have more of a labor shortage so they’re having to go with different technology to rectify that’ and take care of that issue. With the potato industry, it’s ever changing. There’s always new technology that’s coming out which can help them beat the issues that they’re having.”

While continuing to look for help, Lovley also sees new technology as a way to get the job done with fewer, more highly skilled workers.

“You know, we’ve raised wages, we’ve increased our benefits, we’re doing certain things to try and get folks in…always have open applications looking for technical people. But we’re also doing things where we’re going to engineer those positions out. We’ll give the skills to those folks that come in and we’ll educate them to have a higher technical job.”

And how does the shortage of workers affect the bottom line?

“We have a lot of people who step up to the plate when we don’t have enough people, but at the end of the day they can only do so much. If you’re short-staffed and you can’t produce, it affects how you cover your overhead.”

Jonathan Eigenmann, NEWSSOURCE 8.