Labor shortage remains one of U.S. ag's greatest challenges
Washington, D.C. (June 9, 2021)— Yesterday, 288 agricultural organizations representing the geographic and commodity diversity of our nation’s farmers urged immediate Senate action to develop and pass legislation addressing agricultural labor reform. The call came in a letter addressed to Senate leadership and distributed to all senators.
“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. However, the domestic labor shortage remains one of their greatest challenges, impacting farmers today and jeopardizing the future of American agriculture,” the groups state. “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 letter notes both the uncertainty current farmworkers across the country face and the struggle agricultural employers continue to have in filling open jobs. The groups also highlight the longstanding problems with the current H-2A guest worker visa program for agriculture, including cost concerns and the fact that producers with year-round labor needs do not have access to the program.
“Without immediate action by the Senate, the federal government’s outdated policies and broken immigration system will force many farmers to consider whether they can continue in labor-intensive agriculture,” the letter concludes. “As representatives of agricultural organizations throughout the United States, we stand ready to help you develop and pass legislation to fully address the needs of American farmers by stabilizing the current workforce, addressing enormous costs to use the H-2A program, and enabling year-round producers to access the H-2A program.”
The text of the letter can be found here.
The letter was organized by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), which brings together organizations representing the diverse needs of agricultural employers across the country. AWC serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce. In addition to the letter, members of the AWC Steering Committee added their calls for Senate action.
Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation: “Changes to our immigration system and guest worker program are long overdue. Workforce shortages and unpredictable wages limit farmers’ ability to grow their businesses and creates uncertainty in an already difficult economic environment. We urge Congress to modernize our current guest-worker program and provide a means to enable our existing workforce to continue working in agriculture to ensure family farms can continue to meet the demands of our growing nation. We stand ready to work with lawmakers on these important reforms.”
Mike Joyner, president, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association: “Many lessons were learned throughout the pandemic, but few more important than the need for U.S. farmers to feed U.S. families. Without access to a stable, legal workforce, Florida farmers will not be able to plant and harvest their crops and help put nutritious food on the tables of American consumers. A bipartisan approach in the Senate to address the agricultural workforce challenges impacting farmers across the U.S. is critical and urgently needed. We strongly encourage the Senate to take swift action in solving this workforce crisis and look forward to working with leaders throughout the legislative process to help preserve American farmers’ ability to grow food.”
Chuck Conner, president & CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives: “Farmers and ranchers across the country face a labor crisis that threatens their ability to feed, clothe and fuel the world. The letter sent to the Senate late yesterday shows the breadth of support for immigration reform and that this issue is not one specific to only a few commodities or regions of the country. We urge the Senate to take up ag labor reform without delay and look forward to working with key leaders as a package is developed and debated.”
Rob Larew, president, National Farmers Union: “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. While we are encouraged by recent promises that these problems will be fixed, we can’t wait for action any longer. Congress must quickly address the flaws outlined in our letter and ensure that farmers’ and workers’ needs are being met.”
Jim Mulhern, president & CEO, National Milk Producers Federation: “American agriculture’s labor crisis only intensifies each year, and farmers and farmworkers can no longer be asked to endure it. The situation is especially severe for dairy producers, who cannot supplement their domestic workforce with guestworkers. The status quo isn’t viable; Congress must act. Ag workforce reform legislation is ripening, with a bipartisan measure already passed in the House and bipartisan immigration reform talks currently occurring in the Senate. The Senate now must move its own ag labor reform measure, and we call on the Senate to act before this rare window of opportunity closes. We must seize this rare opportunity to address the crisis and support farmers and farmworkers so they can continue feeding America and the world.”
RJ Andrus, Idaho potato grower and vice president of legislative and government affairs, National Potato Council: “America’s potato growers remain committed to passing legislation to address the labor crisis faced by U.S. food producers. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) in taking on this challenge of developing a bill that secures our country and supports U.S. agriculture and America’s essential farm workers.”
Tom Stenzel, president & CEO, United Fresh Produce Association: “United Fresh Produce Association has long advocated for reforms to our immigration system to ensure that we have the workforce to feed our nation, and the world. We have made great progress in the House of Representatives by passing bipartisan reforms and I believe it is imperative that the Senate take up this issue and pass these long overdue reforms in the same manner.”
Jim Bair, president & CEO, USApple: “Each year growers face pressure from operating loans, weather, pests and razor-thin margins. 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. We’re calling on Congress to act and for the Senate to reach a bipartisan agreement that can be signed into law.”
Dave Puglia, president & CEO, Western Growers: “The Senate can end the labor crisis on America’s farms. Our farmers cannot afford another year of inaction. The House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act earlier this year, carefully negotiated bipartisan legislation that would provide stability to the existing farm workforce and a greatly improved and predictable guest worker program. We call on Senators of both parties to seize the moment, take up the issue in good faith, and make the modifications and compromises needed to pass the Senate.”