Getting local citizens to work on dairies has been a challenge across the country. Many dairies have had to turn to immigrant workers as a result.

But one group sees opportunities to get unemployed citizens paired up with farms that need the labor.  

“At this point, it is quite uncertain. We are trying something new, and we won’t know the success of it for a while,” Cheryl Mayforth, director of the Workforce Investment Board for Jefferson and Lewis counties in New York, told Dairy Herd Management.

Several county agricultural organizations have teamed up with Cornell University Cooperative Extension to create a workforce development and training program. Potential workers will be shown what it is like to work on a dairy. After the training, people who are still interested will be matched with dairies that need workers.

Indeed, one reason for high turnover on dairies is that people don’t know what they are getting into when taking a job, Jay Matteson, Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator, told North Country Public Radio recently.

"They aren't expecting it to be as intense a work site as it is,” he said. “It's not sitting behind a desk. You are working with animals. Some people have never worked with animals before, so once they are there standing next to the cow, it's not what they expect. We're just trying to help alleviate some of those misconceptions about what they are going to be getting into. And also help train them just a little bit, so that they understand when the farmer says, ‘OK, we need this done this way,’ that there is a really good reason why the farmer is saying that.”

An orientation meeting for potential workers is planned next week.

“We have a number of people who have signed up,” Mayforth said. “We’re planning on maybe a dozen (at the orientation session).”

Mayforth acknowledges it has been a problem for dairies to attract and retain local workers. But the training program is worth a try nonetheless, she adds. 

This issue is particularly acute in Jefferson County. In late March, a Jefferson County dairy producer was arrested for allegedly harboring an illegal alien. The arrest followed the death of a migrant worker on his farm and the detention of eight other workers by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Read more.