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Finding Good Help Ends Years of Frustration

Foreign agricultural students have helped shore up employment needs on this Indiana hog farm.

An Indiana producer was at wit's end trying to find good employees. Then he learned of a program in which U.S. farmers host and train foreign agricultural students. It eased his employee turnover problem.

Fatigued and Frustrated Bruce Laub was very discouraged. He'd had difficulty finding reliable employees to work in his 750-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.

Hopelessly frustrated, he learned of a farmer's aid group that unites foreign agricultural students and U.S. family farmers.

That frustration led to a win-win situation when Laub became involved in hosting Brazilian agricultural students on his farm. He gained eager helpers in exchange for the tutoring in English and hands-on experience in cropping and hog production.

"I was to the point where it was time to downsize our operation as a result of the problem of getting adequate, qualified labor," recalls Laub, St. Joe, IN. "It was just getting to be too much. There were so many conflicts with employees about pay and time off. I got stuck with all of the weekends and all of the holidays. I had really had it."

Employees are hard to find in northeast Indiana, explains Laub. Young people here don't want to work in agriculture, let alone in pork production, he says.

Part of the reason is the area is heavily industrialized - both in Auburn 10 miles south of St. Joe, IN, and in the larger metro area of Fort Wayne, IN, 20 miles south.

Laub did convince one former part-time employee to return to work full time.

Needing more help, he decided to call the International Farmers Aid Association (IFAA) based in northern California, recommended to him by a local feed company representative. IFAA gave him the names of several pork producers who had used the program. He called three. None had anything bad to say about their trainees or the program.

Program Pays Off After having a dozen or so trainees live and work on his farm the past four years, Laub has found the experience enriching.

He says foreign agricultural students are very responsible and conscientious. They take their jobs seriously and pay close attention to what is expected of them. Laub teaches them hog-raising skills and has them work in the areas to which they are most suited. One may specialize in farrowing, while another may spend most of his time doing equipment and building maintenance.

The trainees regularly interact with Laub, his wife Cathy and their five young children. "We try to make them part of our family and do family things with them," he says.

Many, but not all, of the IFAA trainees have taken several years of agricultural technical training in their home countries of Japan, South Korea, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. A reciprocal program allows American trainees to go to Japan.

Trainees stay in the U.S. about a year. There are several different family lifestyle arrangements. He provides for housing and utilities for trainees in a separate house at the farm. Laub also pays IFAA the recommended contribution rate of $890/trainee/month, which in turn provides students an allowance for food, telephone, insurance and travel expenses. He permits them to use his truck to buy food and run errands, but he keeps close track of their social activities.

They work a maximum of six, 10-hour days with one day off a week. Laub's only complaint is that it's hard to keep the trainees busy. They don't waste time. They finish a job and ask what's next.