USDA is awarding $50 million to farms, ranches, labor contractors and other entities to hire and retain farmworkers, including by encouraging the legal import of laborers from Central America.

The 141 grants being made through the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program will reach 177 agricultural operations and benefit more than 11,000 workers, according to the department.

Some 60% of employers awarded grants plan to use the H-2A visa program to recruit workers are in northern Central America, which comprises Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, a major source of illegal immigration. Providing a legal pathway to workers from that region is an emphasis of the USDA program.

The commitments made by grant winners include increased benefits for workers, including paid sick and vacation leave; establishing “collaborative working groups with robust worker representation;” training sessions on worker rights, and disclosure of recruitment practices.

The Biden administration initiative comes amid growing complaints by farms and their allies on Capitol Hill about H-2A wage rates that they argue are excessive.

“These awards will largely support small and mid-sized farms to ensure they can hire and retain the workers they need to be competitive in the market, while also lifting up rural communities across the country,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. Vilsack announced the grants during a stop in Colorado Friday.

                It’s easy to be “in the know” about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! Simply click here.  

“Farmworkers make an incredibly important contribution to food and agriculture and ensure we have food on our tables every day.," he said "Improving working conditions and quality of life for farmworkers, both U.S.-based workers and those that come to our country to work, is one key step in building a stronger, more resilient food supply chain."

The awardees include Fraser Farms of Kentucky, which is getting $1.2 million to help offset the cost of hiring 77 new employees.

The operation “expects to offer bonuses, paid sick leave, improved worker housing, and a collaborative working group to create a formal forum to discuss employee concerns,” according to a USDA summary of the grant.

In California, Drummond Ranch also is getting $1.2 million and plans to use the money to “bridge gaps in workforce availability, ensuring operational continuity and mitigating burnout among their existing workforce,” the summary says. Drummond will create and improve its training, and create an “employee housing initiative” while increasing its compensation and worker benefits, the summary says.

Bookcliff Farms, a wine grape grower in Colorado, is getting $100,000 to bolster its worker benefits. The operation will offer “paid sick leave, legal assistance, help with medical issues, language classes and free meal service,” the summary says.

For more news, go to