American farmers face new hurdles transporting their produce after an administrative law judge’s decision tightened restrictions on the agricultural labor force.

A U.S. Department of Labor ALJ recently ruled that the H-2A visa program cannot be used by third-party shippers who transport agricultural commodities. This decision guts the main shipping option for farmers and leaves them scrambling for new ways to get their produce to customers.

Traditionally, farmers used third-party shippers to move their crops from farms to markets. Those shippers largely employ workers who are authorized to work in the U.S. on a temporary basis with the agricultural H-2A visa program. The Department of Labor, though, in an ALJ decision issued May 17, narrowed the types of jobs the H-2A program covers. Judge Monica Markley ruled that H-2A can only be applied to work done on the farm itself or by the farmer’s employees. Third-party workers who deliver the farm’s goods are excluded from the program.

That ruling leaves farmers with few options to move produce. Farmers are looking at “quick fix” solutions, including:

  • Employing their own delivery drivers
  • Forming ventures with neighboring businesses to create a delivery system
  • Having the buyers of their produce employ drivers using a different visa program

With most farmers using third-party shippers, this decision will create a ripple effect throughout the farming industry. For now, farmers must identify lawful ways to utilize the H-2A program to overcome this recent application of the law.