With spring in the air, I invite Minnesota’s rural communities to join me in welcoming migrant and seasonal farm and agricultural workers to our state. Every year, Minnesota benefits from the extraordinarily hard work of thousands of people who travel here for jobs. Picking fruits and vegetables, working in canneries and meat processing plants, and many other jobs contribute to our vibrant agricultural systems. If you’re a sweet corn or pea producer, for example, your enterprise depends on the migrant and seasonal farm workers who show up every summer to put your produce into cans. While statistics vary, a University of Minnesota report estimates that 20,000 people migrate to Minnesota each year to work on farms and in food processing facilities.
A widespread falsehood about migrant and seasonal workers is that they are undocumented. This is not true. Most are U.S. citizens, and others are permanent residents. For many of these employees, seasonal farm work is the family business and has been since World War II, when the U.S. government signed a labor agreement with Mexico to avoid farm labor shortages. Today, many workers come to work in Minnesota each summer, often with their spouses and children. Some agricultural employers in Minnesota can hire temporary foreign workers on a special short-term agricultural visa called an H-2A, but this is a different and much smaller group of people.
I feel proud that so many migrant and seasonal workers choose to return to Minnesota year after year and develop lasting relationships with their employers. And yet, many face challenges – particularly with respect to workplace safety, and access to health care, housing and transportation. Understanding and addressing these challenges is critical, not only to the workers themselves, but also to their families and communities and to our agriculture industry. Minnesota ranks 5th in the nation in overall agricultural production, and these workers play an integral role in ensuring the success of food production and processing here.
Migrant and seasonal workers spend much of what they earn right in the communities where they live and we all benefit from their presence, whether seasonal or permanent. I hope you and your families will reach out in friendship and gratitude at the grocery stores, places of worship, playgrounds, sports fields, libraries, and other places in the communities we share.
Thom Petersen has served as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture since 2019.