Nearly 300 agricultural groups are urging the U.S. Senate to pass an agriculture labor reform bill. Led by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, the groups sent a letter to every senator.
“America’s farmers have faced an onslaught of challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, catastrophic weather events, retaliatory tariffs in our top export markets and falling commodity prices and farm income just to name a few,” the letter stated.
“However, the domestic labor shortage remains one of their greatest challenges, impacting farmers today and jeopardizing the future of American agriculture. We must address this workforce crisis threatening farms across the United States so our producers can continue to feed, clothe and fuel our nation,” the groups said.
That requires providing stability for existing workers and key reforms to the H-2A program, they said.
“We implore the Senate to put forward its ideas and solutions to pass legislation in a bipartisan manner to address our agricultural workforce challenges,” the groups said.
Farmworkers, who have played an essential role throughout the pandemic, continue to face uncertainty in this country. U.S. agriculture needs a solution for farmworkers to stay and work in agriculture legally, they said.
“Entire sectors of agriculture struggle to fill open jobs on the farm by not currently having access to the H-2A program due to its seasonal requirement. Producers with year-round labor needs must be eligible to participate in the H-2A guestworker program without arbitrary limits,” they said.
In addition, they pointed out the existing H-2A program is cumbersome and expensive.
H-2A employers are required to pay workers a flawed survey-based wage rate set using data that does not take into account the value of other expensive mandated benefits. Farmers need a predictable wage rate that enables them to budget and ensure their businesses remain competitive in a global marketplace, the letter stated.
“Without immediate action by the Senate, the federal government’s outdated policies and broken immigration system will force many farmers to consider whether they can continue in labor-intensive agriculture,” the groups said.
Members of the coalition said changes to the immigration system and guestworker program are long overdue and U.S. farmers can’t wait any longer for much-needed reform.
“Workforce shortages and unpredictable wages limit farmers’ ability to grow their businesses and creates uncertainty in an already difficult economic environment,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Our farm labor system should be functional for farmers and compassionate towards farm workers, and it should provide some certainty for both parties — but currently, it accomplishes none of the above,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union.
“American agriculture’s labor crisis only intensifies each year, and farmers and farmworkers can no longer be asked to endure it,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.
Jim Bair, president and CEO of USApple, said growers face pressure from operating loans, weather, pests and razor-thin margins every year.
“They shouldn’t have to worry about leaving apples on the trees because they couldn’t get workers to harvest them. But that’s exactly what happens, and it’s threatening the future of the apple industry,” he said.