T’is the season for harvesting greens, such as lettuce. In this video, shot west of Old State Road 80 in Belle Glade, farmworkers from Mexico, brought in under the federal H-2A program, harvest endive.

Note the vegetable fields, stretching almost to the horizon. This video was taken during a December 2016 bus tour of farms and a sugar mill in the Glades.

Greens such as lettuce and endive cannot be harvested mechanically, so growers must bring in foreign workers under the H-2A program. The workers earn higher incomes if they harvest more quickly than expected.

Until about 1992, H-2A workers from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands harvested sugar by hand during the fall and spring. The sugar-cane harvest is now completely mechanized, using machines that cost $300,000 each and cut at four times the speed of humans.

Palm Beach County produces the most ag products

In 2012, the last year for which figures are available, Palm Beach County led all Florida counties, by a wide margin, in total value of agricultural products sold ($999 million). The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Ag Census” reports these figures every five years.

No. 2 was Miami-Dade County, with $604 million; followed by Hendry County, which borders Lake Okeechobee on the southwest, with $499 million.

H-2A program

Part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division oversees the H-2A — Temporary Agricultural Workers program.

This program allows U.S. employers, or U.S. agents who meet the requirements, to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.
To qualify for H-2A nonimmigrant classification, the petitioner must, according to www.uscis.gov:
  • Offer a job that is temporary or seasonal;
  • Demonstrate that not enough U.S. workers are able, willing, qualified and available to do the temporary work;
  • Show that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.