The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security met Tuesday to discuss agricultural labor. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman testified that a new, modern guestworker program for agricultural workers is needed so U.S. farmers and ranchers can continue growing food, tending livestock and contributing to the nation’s economy. Stallman urged lawmakers to implement a new, market-based labor program administered by USDA. He said this new program would serve as a substitute for – and eventually replace – the H-2A program. He said it would provide farmers with access to a legal and stable workforce over the long-term. According to Stallman – agriculture’s ultimate goal is to develop a program that treats workers fairly and is efficient and economical for employers to use.
Stallman addressed agriculture’s short-term labor needs in his testimony as well. In order to provide short-term stability and an orderly, effective transition to a new guestworker program – he said it is imperative for any legislation approved by Congress to include provisions permitting current agricultural workers who might not otherwise qualify to obtain work authorization. He noted any new program will take time to fully implement. Stallman said that means granting existing experienced agricultural workers work authorization is a crucial part of making sure there is not economic dislocation in the ag sector during the transition to a new program.
If the agriculture labor issue isn’t addressed – American Farm Bureau economists estimate the agricultural economy and the broader U.S. economy are facing nine-billion dollars or more in lost productivity each year.