The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration recently met with a focus on what was termed - America’s agricultural labor crisis.
National Milk Producers Federation spokesperson Chris Galen says even in this time of high unemployment, ag producers are having a tough time finding American workers:
“We actually did a study a couple of years ago with Texas A&M where we sent out a survey to several thousand diary farmers, and we found, I think the number is around 41%, of the labor force on these farms is foreign born and a significant number lack proper documentation. That’s a problem. And it’s true not just for diary, but for fruits and vegetables, and meat packing and a lot of other things you have across the country. And I think the issue is that people, even if they may not have steady work, this is work that people really don’t want to do. And that’s what we need to address with labor policy.”
NMPF is in favor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act introduced by seven U.S. Senators earlier this year. Galen says it would address dairy farm workforce needs by extending the H-2A visa program to the dairy industry:
“If you are a fruit and vegetable operator, someone who needs workers to do a seasonal harvest, like in the fall, you can use the H2A Visa program. However, because diary farming isn’t considered seasonal work, it’s not, it’s 24/7/365, you can’t use the H2A visa program, so we have been supporting legislation that would create a carve-out or an inclusion in the H2A visa program for dairy farmers.”
Because immigration is a touchy issue - Galen says that may be a long, drawn-out fight. Another effort - this one in the House - would impose mandatory E-Verify for all businesses in the U.S. Galen says NMPF has concerns:
“The E-verify data bases aren’t really up to snuf, and that’s something that we’re very concerned about, because anything that’s just enforcement only, that goes after employers without giving them an opportunity for them to have a legal, documented workforce, is going to be bad for jobs, and bad for dairy farms and other employers at precisely the wrong time in our economy.”
The Carolinas rank in the top 10 of states that rely on seasonal labor in order for the farm to function in a timely manner.