Farmers in need of workers turn to robotics

Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 4:45 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - As Wisconsin farms prepare for the upcoming growing season, some are having a hard time finding enough workers. This would leave fields full, cows not milked, cheese not processed.

With their busy season quickly approaching, local farmers say they’re nervous they won’t be able to find enough people to help them out.

“We are in uncharted territory right now. You kind of get in panic mode because you need to have people in the seats when it’s go time. That’s just the bottom line,” Greg Vollmer, who owns Midlakes Custom Services, said.

They need help in the field and in the processing plants.

“Our dairy farmers are having a hard time to get workers on farm to feed their cows and milk their cows, but we are also seeing a shortage of milk callers to bring the milk to the plant as well as shortage of help in the plant,” Julie Sweney of the Farm First Dairy Cooperative said.

They know it can be a hard job.

“The environment that we work is demanding when it’s summertime. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s when the crop is ready to go we go -- whether its a holiday, whether it’s weekends,” said Vollmer.

They suspect shrinking family sizes might be playing a part in their staffing struggles.

“There’s less farm kids. You know, we rely on kids that grew up on farms to come to us looking for jobs, and there’s less and less kids that are interested in farming, so I think there is a lot of that happening, too,” said Vollmer.

With almost no options left, today’s farmers are turning to more automatic equipment to get their jobs done.

Vollmer said, “The automation and the sheer size has become more attractive now than it ever has.”

“Higher precision and less labor is what it’s all about,” Valmetal director of sales Ralph Fanning said.

They hope that in the long run, the upfront cost of that technology will be worth it.

“You might be looking at a feed pusher of $25,000 when you have a broom, but it’s going to push food up to your cows more times per day, and they will feed more and produce more,” Fanning said.

Vollmer said another option farmers have is applying for a federal H2A program to employ foreign nationals to fill temporary positions. He says that process can be long and difficult, so he’s looking at investing in more automatic equipment this year or soon after.

Farmers are concerned they won't have enough workers this year.

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