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Tomato grower president on labor shortage and future of indoor farming

When Chuck Tryon took over as president of Owatonna-based Bushel Boy Farms in early October 2020, the U.S. was still a couple of months away from an approved Covid-19 vaccine. Like virtually every business at the time, Bushel Boy faced a great deal of uncertainty. But that’s not just because of the pandemic. A more pressing concern? A shortage of workers to staff Bushel Boy’s tomato greenhouses in Greater Minnesota and Iowa. 

“Farm labor in the U.S. is a challenge, whether you’re indoors or outdoors,” Tryon said in a recent interview with TCB. “It does cause daily challenges.”

The reasons behind the shortage are complicated, but, across the country, a sharp drop in immigrant labor has been one cause of concern for some farmers. Even before the pandemic, labor shortage was already an issue for a number of other industries in Greater Minnesota. In November 2020, rural parts of the state had “more job postings than unemployment claims,” Finance & Commerce reported earlier this year, citing data from Minnesota’s jobs agency.

Tryon said his company has been looking at ways to “enhance our ability to recruit people” in both Minnesota and Iowa. That’s involved partnering with the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and other businesses in town. The chamber has had some success in bringing new industries and jobs to the region, Tryon said. But now, the concern is finding enough workers to fill those jobs.

“There is a little bit of a lag,” Tryon said. “We’re working hard with the local chamber of commerce and other businesses to promote that it’s not just an area for new construction and new development, but also a place for people to live, work, and thrive.”

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