American Farm Bureau: Ag labor is our leading issue

The ag community has faced many hurdles over the last several years and labor is a common topic.

Across the country, farms and ag businesses continue to struggle with labor shortages. Chuck Connor leads the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and he has been pushing lawmakers to do something about it.

“Labor has quickly taken over as the number one challenge facing cooperatives and farmers.”

It has been two years since the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It would have expanded the time immigrant workers with H-2A visas could stay and work on U.S. farms, but the Senate version of that bill was cut, effectively killing the House bill, too. Connor says it failed because agriculture got caught up in the controversy surrounding world events.

“The legislation didn’t fail because of anything of substance. It failed because of the controversy over border issues and the whole immigration space that isn’t particularly targeted at farm labor. We were sort of caught up in all of that, so we’re going to be continuing to look for the opportunity when maybe that controversy is settled down a little bit and it gives us the opportunity to come in and fix this H-2A program.”

Just this week, we heard from a New York dairy farmer who said he has never seen issues like this in nearly 50 years of farming. Connor says he is concerned ongoing labor challenges will further hurt the ag economy.

“There aren’t very many dairy barns in America today that can operate strictly on family labor. If you’re having to hire virtually any labor today, about the only option for you is to look potentially at foreign labor coming in. With the current challenges that we face in the H-2A program—for many, that’s just not an option.”

Connor wants lawmakers to pass legislation to expand the H-2A program.

“For all practical purposes, it is the only solution for co-ops and the only solution for farmers going forward,” says Conner. “We have to figure out a way to make it an option going forward if we are to continue to provide the food and fiber for America in the manner which they become quite accustomed to.”

Last year, H-2A applications were up 17.5 percent in the first half of the year, and the National Council of Ag Employers noted there were not enough domestic workers to fill temporary spots.

While the industry deals with those shortages, farmers are dealing with wage increases associated with H-2A workers. New rules increase wage rates by around 12 percent across the U.S. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall says that will take a toll on H-2A-reliant farmers, especially small operations.

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