A bill introduced in the House on Wednesday would allow foreign agricultural workers in the U.S. to earn legal status and reform the H-2A guestworker program to provide year-round labor.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was introduced with the support of 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans.
It was quickly hailed by dairy organizations, including the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, expressing their appreciation.
“This bipartisan bill would provide a great deal of certainty and stability on one of the most challenging aspects of milk production in the state — the availability of trained, experienced workers to care for the cows,” Rick Naerebout, IDA's CEO.
Dairy farmers in the state will be able to retain their current workers, who can earn legal status and continue to be “an integral part of our farms and our communities,” he said.
The bill also offers dairy producers and other employers who have year-round labor needs access to workers from other countries when no local workers are available to fill those positions, he said.
The legislation is long overdue, Pete Wiersma, IDA president, said.
“The bill is a good step forward for farmers, our families, our workers and their families and for the communities in rural Idaho,” he said.
The National Milk Producers Federation said dairy farmers can’t wait any longer for agricultural labor reform.
Dairy farmers face a unique labor crisis because jobs on dairies are not seasonal or temporary, Mike McCloskey, a dairy farmer and chairman of NMPF’s immigration task force, said.
“From our years of work on these issues, we know first-hand just how hard immigration reform is. But we simply cannot and will not stop working to find a solutions,” he said.
“Dairy needs workers for our industry to sustain itself. It’s that simple, and it’s that dire,” he said.
NMPF has supported numerous efforts to address dairy’s acute labor needs, and passing legislation in the House is a critical first step, Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said.
“We urge the Senate to work with us on this important issue so we can get an ag worker bill across the finish line in this Congress,” he said.
International Dairy Foods Association said the legislation is a much-needed, positive step forward to address the workforce needs of dairy farmers and the dairy industry.
“America’s dairy industry produces a safe, nutritious supply of dairy products to an ever-growing customer base around the world,” Michael Dykes, DVM, IDFA president and CEO, said.
“But without a reliable, predictable program to ensure that legal labor is available on demand, our industry cannot remain competitive and our local economies only suffer,” he said.
The bill would also establish a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system to ensure a legal workforce, reform H-2A wages and improve the availability of farmworker housing while lowering employers’ costs in providing housing.
The bill has garnered widespread support from nearly 250 agricultural groups and labor organizations, according to the sponsors of the bill.