FARMING IN FEAR: Dairy farmers who rely on migrant workers concerned about detainment issues

At McMahon’s EZ Acres in Cortland County, workers milk the dairy cows three times a day.

They do the “dirty work,” as Mike McMahon puts it.

For their labor, workers get a three-bedroom house — with utilities included — and a salary upwards of $35,000.

“We really felt that we had turned a corner on labor turnover on the farm,” McMahon said.

But it’s the work few locals want.

Those jobs are often filled with migrant workers. But now there’s a focus on federal detainment operations and how they can impact upstate New York farms.

Roughly half of the 13 employees at EZ Acres are migrant workers.

“What jobs are they taking? The jobs you can’t keep local people on,” McMahon said.

Despite beliefs that migrant workers come and leave, he said most of his workers stay for at least four years, sending money back to invest in their homes.

“A lot of people don’t realize that those of us in agriculture have to take social security and taxes and they don’t have an opportunity to get that back,” McMahon said.

It’s not a unique situation.

McMahon started employing migrant workers in 2000, under the advisement of other farmers.

“Almost 80 percent of the milk and 90 percent of the fruits and vegetables are harvested by Hispanic hands. Take them out of the picture and you’re looking at empty grocery store shelves,” McMahon said.

He is vocal about his beliefs, calling migrant workers the backbone for the agricultural industry.

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