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Jefferson County program aims to tackle unemployment and labor shortage in dairy industry

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The problem of high labour turnover on dairy farms was highlighted in late March when John Barney of Smithville was arrested for hiring Latinos who came here without documentation. Many farmers say they can't get their cows milked any other way, but the hiring of immigrants breeds resentment when unemployment in the region is so high.

Now, several Jefferson County agricultural organizations and the Cornell cooperative extension have created the Agricultural Workforce Development and Training program to train local people and match them with dairy farms looking for help.

Jay Matteson is Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator. He told Nora Flaherty one of the biggest causes of high turnover is that people just don't know what they're getting into when they take a job at a dairy farm.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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"They aren't expecting it to be as intense a worksite as it is. It's not sitting behind a desk. You are working with animals," Matteson said. "We're just trying to help alleviate some of those misconceptions about what they are going to be getting into. And also help train them just a little bit, so that they understand when the farmer says, ‘OK, we need this done this way,’ that there is a really good reason why the farmer is saying that.


"When you look at the unemployment rates in the area and yet our farmers are struggling to find people who are willing to stay on the job, that gets frustrating... We are hoping we can find enough people and find enough farms jobs to put the two together.

"The challenge is the farms cannot authenticate reliably whether the documentation that these folks that are coming into our country provide. They can't authenticate whether that documentation is actually legal or not. They are in a catch-22 position...

"The fear is that this program won't be successful enough before the federal government mandates the authentication programs that are coming down the pipe. And that the workforce that's on our dairy farms right now will go away before they can be replaced with the local folks."

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