Workers are crucial to our food system. From fields to processors to grocery stores and kitchens, the safety, well-being, and productivity of our workforce is foundational to our economy and food security both here and abroad. Indeed, across every industry, the United States workforce is the backbone of our great nation.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) understands the importance of workers up and down the food value chain, which is why we invest in programs that prioritize workers. On this Labor Day weekend, when we have a day of rest to reflect on how labor has contributed to building our nation, we invite you to explore how NIFA works with public and private partners to build a promising future for agricultural workers and keep them safe.
INVESTING IN SEASONAL AND MIGRANT WORKERS
One such program aims to develop career advancement opportunities for migrant and seasonal farmworkers. The program, led by several Michigan State University partners, will help workers be better training for food systems jobs in Michigan and get the skills they need to advance in food and agriculture sector careers. Migrant and seasonal workers are critical to food and agriculture across the nation, and this investment will make sure they have the skills they need to succeed, grow, and secure our food system in the future. The program is sponsored through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
LOOKING AHEAD: TRAINING PROFESSIONALS FOR THE FUTURE
While migrant and seasonal labor is important to farm productivity, NIFA wants to train the next generation of agricultural professionals. Last year, NIFA announced an investment of $4.8 million to support projects offering workforce training by community colleges. From Hawaii to Rhode Island, 12 community colleges are equipping students with workforce training, “on-the-job” training environments, and pathways to better employability. Students will earn a two-year degree or an industry-accepted credential before moving on into the agricultural workforce.
PROTECTING OUR WORKERS: RESEARCHING IMPROVED SAFETY EQUIPMENT
We want to be forward thinking about the agricultural workforce, but we also want to protect today’s workers – whether they are in agriculture or not. Firefighters, police officers, military personnel, healthcare professionals, pesticide handlers, and many others perform their jobs in hazardous environments with personal protective equipment that is poorly ventilated, bulky, and difficult to work in. Through NIFA’s Multistate Research Fund, we funded research to improve protective equipment such as easy to use garments for Ebola workers at Cornell University, wireless sensors in garments to track health results at Oklahoma State University, and bacteria-resistant self-cleaning fabrics at Kansas State University. You can read more about the grant in our database and from this summary.
These are just a few examples of the work NIFA has funded to invest in America’s workforce. NIFA is proud to partner with organizations that are researching new initiatives to keep our workers safe and training the next generation of agriculture professionals. We hope as you rest this Labor Day, you will consider the hard work that goes into keeping our nation fed and healthy.
For more examples of the work NIFA invests in to benefit our agricultural workers, check out these stories:
Cornell University is partnering with the private sector to conduct modeling projects that aim to identify optimal mitigation strategies for labor-intensive food processing facilities to deal with COVID-19-related labor shortages.
By leveraging automation technologies, land-grant university researchers are finding ways to make farm workers safer and more efficient when dealing with labor intensive specialty crops like fruits, tree nuts, and nursery plants.