Should I Plant Bareroot or Containerized Loblolly Seedlings?
After doing your homework and deciding on the best seedling genetics for your site, should you plant bareroot or container?
The answer is yes, and it depends. For most reforestation situations, bareroot seedlings will provide survival rates of around 88%. Planting with container seedlings can improve survival on droughty sites and may be planted early in the planting season (October/November).
Under typical conditions during the normal planting window (December to March), however, bareroot seedlings will survive and grow equally well to container seedlings. Keep in mind that after you thin your stand, you will leave only 125-150 crop trees, so either stock type will provide more than adequate survival for this target. Hear Geoffrey Hill talk more about your options.
Remember, planting containerized seedlings is not a substitute for good quality site preparation. Landowners should not use containerized seedlings to skimp on-site preparation, thinking that containerized seedlings will compensate for poor or no site prep. For example, failing to bed on a wet site and planting containerized seedlings will likely not give results as good as bedding and planting bareroot seedlings. The growth and survival will not be as good because the limiting factor (excessive soil moisture and poor aeration of the roots) has not been addressed.
ArborGen offers both container and bareroot seedlings for almost all of our pine seedling products. Contact one of our Reforestation Advisors and they can help you decide which planting stock will work best for your situation.
Why the H-2B Guestworker is Important
to the Forest Products Industry
Deborah Hawkinson, FRA President & Tim O’Hara, FRA Director of Government Affairs
The Forest Resources Association (“FRA”) represents the wood supply chain, which is made up of hundreds of businesses and organizations in the forest products industry. This includes timber landowners, loggers, mills, equipment manufacturers and service providers, and the consuming mills making products that are used throughout the global economy.
Our forests and the products they produce are a resource that must be renewed each year through extensive reforestation efforts. It is estimated that some 1.2 billion trees are planted each year throughout the United States. In order to accomplish this work, nonimmigrant workers are recruited through the H-2B visa program.
Prior to arrival to the U.S., H-2B guestworkers must gain approval from four government agencies. Workers are paid a premium wage, and it is estimated that for each H-2B worker, more than 4.6 American jobs are created. Much of the revenue generated by this work directly benefits the small towns and rural areas across the United States. This is supported by a finding in a recently released Government Accountability Report, which concluded: “counties with H-2B employers generally had lower unemployment rates and higher weekly wages than those without H-2B employers.” The H-2B visa program is critical to supporting the forest products industry in the U.S. that directly employs approximately one million individuals, with an associated payroll of 55.4 billion dollars.
Forestry related work is the second largest user of the H-2B visa program. In federal fiscal year 2019, employers requested 11,283 H-2B nonimmigrant workers. These workers come to the U.S. for about seven months each year to work in forestry-related occupations. The work is difficult. It is performed outside in often challenging terrain and constantly changing weather conditions. This work is itinerant and involves demanding manual labor outdoors in the elements. There are fewer and fewer U.S. workers each year who are willing to take these temporary jobs even though they typically pay well above the federal minimum wage.
FRA’s advocacy efforts over time have been extensive to address the concerns and obstacles our industry faces with the H-2B program. Below is an overview of our latest efforts to ensure our industry has the guestworkers they need, in addition to the added challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In 1990, Congress set a cap that limits the number of H-2B visas that are available. The cap of 66,000 visas is distributed equally in allotments of 33,000 visas on two separate occasions during the fiscal year (FY). In recent years, the demand for visas has exceeded the cap by two to three times, which has created labor challenges for many seasonal businesses, including those seeking forestry workers.
FRA and allies working on the H-2B visa issue have been successful through appropriations language in FYs 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. This language provided authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional visas when the demand exceeds the cap of 66,000. The administration has responded by allocating supplemental visas for FYs 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Impacts of COVID-19:
On March 5, the DHS announced that an additional 35,000 visas would be made available for FY 2020. This was to be the largest allocation of supplemental visas to date. On April 2, the DHS announced that the supplemental visas would not be made available due to the negative impact on the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement left many businesses concerned as to where they would get seasonal labor to support their businesses. Employers of forestry workers that were hoping to receive visas for seasonal labor are now in a holding pattern until the DHS makes a final decision on the release of supplemental visas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty in the H-2B visa program. H-2B workers already in the country with expiring visas are having difficulty making it back to their country of origin. Other nonimmigrant workers are in business sectors that were so heavily impacted by COVID-19 that employers can no longer afford or have a need for the workers. The processing of H-2B visas has slowed significantly as many U.S. embassies and consulates have suspended visa services. This will significantly delay when seasonal workers arrive in the U.S.
In terms of forestry work, the impact of COVID-19 may be less as it relates to having workers in place. Employers of forestry workers apply for most of their H-2B visas during the first half of the fiscal year. These workers likely were here prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The challenges for these employers will be navigating the restrictions placed on domestic travel and state executive orders that restrict workers. And when the work is done, travel restrictions abroad may make it difficult or prevent nonimmigrant workers from returning to their country of origin.
With all this uncertainty, many employers are waiting for guidance from the DHS. An important measure that needs to be implemented is extending the H-2B visas that are expiring for workers that may not be able to return home due to travel restrictions. For these workers, and the businesses that no longer need H-2B workers due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, there is a need for a process that expedites the transfer of these workers to businesses that still have a demand for employees.
On Monday April 20, the H-2B Coalition, of which FRA serves on the steering committee, sent a letter to the DHS urging them to facilitate access to H-2B workers. Among the actions requested in this letter were: reinstate premium processing for H-2B visas, expedite the transfer of workers and visa extensions, and if the economy improves, promptly release supplemental visas to those businesses in demand. Many of these provisions are already available for the H-2A visa, a nonimmigrant worker visa for the agricultural sector. We hope the DHS acts quickly on our requests.
Permanent Solution Efforts:
FRA and H-2B allies are working towards a permanent solution to the H-2B cap. Our immediate goal is to include similar language in the FY 2021 appropriations language that will provide more authority to the DHS to release additional visas. This authority would allow the DHS to release supplemental visas quicker than in recent years, and would allow for the cap to adjust based on economic indicators, such as the unemployment rate. This type of legislative solution would remove the uncertainty for seasonal employers and assure that enough H-2B visas are available to meet seasonal labor demands for employers.
Hopefully helping this effort is the April 1st release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review on the H-2B visa program. The GAO undertook the study to assess the H-2B visa program’s ability to meet the needs of U.S. business demands for H-2B visa nonimmigrant workers. The report reviewed (1) trends in the demand for H-2B visa workers, (2) selected employers’ reports of the visa cap’s influence on their performance and employment of U.S. workers, and (3) how federal agencies have sought to meet employers’ H-2B hiring needs and protect U.S. workers. Some of the report findings are that: H-2B visa demand has increased as the unemployment rate has declined; from 2010 to 2018 the demand for the number of H-2B workers increased from 86,600 to 147,600; counties with H-2B employers generally had lower unemployment rates and higher weekly wages than those without H-2B employers.
The GAO report recommends that DHS assess options to change the H-2B visa program, and, as warranted, implement changes or submit proposed legislative changes to Congress. This would include an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of considering current economic trends in determining the appropriate number of additional H-2B visas to provide. If DHS is given this authority by Congress, they then can implement an approach that considers such trends.
The demand for H-2B visas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2013. This increase is directly related to the unemployment rate. As the unemployment rate decreases, the demand for H-2B nonimmigrant seasonal workers increases. Seasonal workers are needed to replant forestlands as domestic workers are typically not interested in these jobs.
H-2B nonimmigrant seasonal workers prepare for and reforest a timber harvest site in northern MN. The H-2B visa program is a critical component to sustainable forest management.
In addition, our work continues with DOL and their review of the H-2A guestworker visa for agriculture and the inclusion of forestry. While we welcome a discussion to have the option of using H-2A for forestry operations, in its current form it is unworkable. FRA addressed our concerns and solutions on how to move forward. The rule is currently under review.
In closing, we believe Congress, U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security have the means to immediately address the guestworker visa challenges the forest products industry faces. We need a permanent solution that will simplify the process and remove the uncertainty and confusion that currently exists. We will continue to look for legislative and regulatory changes to address this important link of the wood supply chain.