Nearly a dozen agriculture groups announced on Friday a new Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) to propose and advocate for labor policies that ensure farm operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce.
The formation of the new effort is recognition immigration reform’s coming to the forefront of possible legislative topics on Capitol Hill.
American agriculture employs more than 1.5 million hired workers each year, each of whom contributes enough economically to support two or three full-time jobs in food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors.
Farm labor shortages are acute for fruit, vegetable, nut and dairy operations, which are typically very labor intensive. For instance, each apple produced in the United States, more than 20 billion, must be picked by hand.
AWC said it would put forward a framework for reform including two components: an agricultural worker program to replace the current H-2A visa program, which is widely considered problematic, and adjustments to current short-term labor programs used by ag operations.
The agriculture worker program would provide visas for up to 11 months for “at will” employees or a year for contract employees, with employees required to spend a period of time in their home countries at regular intervals.
The proposal also supports an “adjustment of status for experienced but unauthorized agricultural workers” living the U.S.
“It’s important for workers, farmers and especially consumers that we have a legal, stable workforce in place. It’s time to move the discussion forward and find a solution. It’s time to meet agriculture’s labor crisis head on,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, whose organization is part of the new coalition.
Other groups participating in the coalition include American Nursery and Landscape Association; Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association; National Council of Agricultural Employers; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Milk Producers Federation; USA Farmers; U.S. Apple Association; United Fresh Produce Association; Western Growers Association; and Western United Dairymen. The groups are partnered with the existing Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.
NAWG is not a member of the AWC but is following its efforts. Standing NAWG policy supports a guest worker program that secures the borders of the United States and provides a legal, affordable and stable workforce for agriculture.
More from the AWC is available online at www.agworkforcecoalition.org.