Hiring H-2A workers is on the rise. Everybody knows that by now.

But that expensive route is not the only way to fill out labor ranks, agricultural labor agencies say. Don’t overlook tricks and techniques to attract domestic workers.

Among them: Hire kids.

True, minors bring their own challenges and rules, but don’t overlook their positive attributes, said Tisa Soeteber, a former agricultural employment standards specialist for the state of Washington.

She spoke to growers in January at the labor conference held in Wenatchee, Washington, by wafla, one of the state’s larger agricultural labor associations. Young people bring energy and enthusiasm, she said. Typically, they want to learn and want to please adults by working hard.

“For the most part, right?” Soeteber said to a chorus of laughs.

Soeteber has good memories of some of her adolescent years working on a farm, especially when supervisors taught her well, she said.

To overcome the risks, she shared a few suggestions for employing teenagers.

Train all your employees, but make extra sure kids are trained and supervised. Young people often lack an appreciation of their own vulnerability and may take safety risks that an adult would not.

Double check paperwork. In Washington, for example, growers must have a special permit to hire minors, while all the underage employees must have a parent-school authorization form if they are working during the school year.

They need a new one each year, too. Hiring a minor without one of those can mean a $250 fine per minor per day.

More on paperwork — make sure you have a proof of age on file. That’s one of the most common violations Soebeter has seen in her career.

You might be able to pay below minimum wage. In Washington, people under 16 may be paid only 85 percent of minimum wage because they are still learning.

They are limited in hours and tasks they may perform. Employers may apply for variances, but depending on their age and time of year, children may only work certain hours per week.

That creates another supervision challenge, said Jon Warling, owner of Mar-Jon Labor of Othello, Washington, especially if those kids are working side-by-side with adults, even their parents.

For more information about Washington’s regulations for hiring teens on a farm visit, http://bit.ly/teen-labor

Kids often wear out faster than they anticipate. “I have noticed that when they work long hours, their efficiency falls off,” Warling said. Anderson recommended giving them more breaks than the law requires “because they’re kids.”

If done right, hiring teenagers can be good for both farmers and kids, Anderson said. “It takes extra effort but it’s worth it in the long run because you’re teaching the next generation.”

Mike Gempler, executive director of another farm labor nonprofit agreed. “We encourage it,” he said.

Yes, there are rules, but they have changed little in the past 20 years in Washington, Gempler said. He also advised growers to treat them like kids and not adults, even if setting high expectations. They need extra supervision and training.

“It takes a certain kind of supervision because they don’t want to displease people, so they often say they can do things when they can’t,” Gempler said.

His agency has recruited in high schools and has worked with educational service districts to put on trainings to which children were invited.

“It’s still a big deal for some teenagers,” he said. •

—by Ross Courtney