They were put on probation and fined $2.7 million for hiring illegal immigrant workers. Now, they are shying away from Hispanic workers and requiring all job applicants to go through E-Verify.

Things haven’t been the same at Aquila Farms in Bad Axe, Mich., since the first of three immigration raids in May 2007. At various times, the farm owners were held hostage in their own backyard, jailed, had their computers seized, and charged with employing illegal aliens.

“The last time, they came in with a helicopter and tank to pick up me and my wife,” John Verhaar told a World Ag Expo seminar audience on Wednesday.

Eventually, their attorneys negotiated a plea deal and the Verhaars were placed on probation and ordered to pay a $2.7 million fine. Read more. Federal agents can come onto their farm unannounced at any time and check to see who is working there.

That is why they had to start hiring Anglos, despite the difficulty many dairies have in retaining Anglo workers once they are hired. Initially, “we had to go through 150 (job applicants) to get 20 decent people we could trust somewhat,” Verhaar says. Some of those people are still there. 

The Verhaars are also looking into robotic milking systems.

Asked what advice he has for farms that are still hiring Hispanics, Verhaar told Dairy Herd Network in the video interview above, “Know what you’re doing. Be very careful, because it could be a disaster.”

Aquila Farms milks 2,500 cows.