Agriculture news

Read Farm Workforce

House members reintroduce Farm Workforce Modernization Act

U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) reintroduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 1537, which creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives last year, aims to provide a compromise solution that makes meaningful reforms to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector. 

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But many of them do so while living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which has only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Stabilizing the workforce will protect the future of our farms and our food supply. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act accomplishes this by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers and updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses of Congress to get this bipartisan legislation that serves the best interests of our country to the President’s desk.”

“American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and Members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”

The bill was negotiated over eight months in 2019 with input from farmers, agricultural stakeholders, labor organizations, and farmworker advocates. In December 2019, it became the first agriculture labor reform legislation to pass the House of Representatives since 1986. Since its passage in the House, a bipartisan coalition of Members has been working to strengthen support for the legislation.

The bill would:

  • Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  • Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.
  • Focus on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.

In the 116th Congress, the bill garnered support from over 300 agriculture organizations .Click here for the full text of the bill or here for a two-page summary.

Read working moms

Women in Farming & STEM celebrate working moms

In honor of Working Moms Day on Friday, March 12, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW) and Working Moms of Milwaukee are partnering to host a Women in Farming & STEM virtual panel discussion on Zoom to foster conversation around industries where working moms are often underrepresented, including farming, science, and technology.

Two inspiring women in dairy, Laura Hernandez, Ph.D., and Jeannie Bishop, will participate in the event as panelists, along with Melissa Gaglione, president of Safety4Her Inc., and Katie Reichl, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MSOE.

  • Hernandez is an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studies lactation in dairy cattle. She also is co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Learning Community and looks forward to discussing
    the nutritional benefits of dairy and how her research overlaps with breastfeeding solutions for new mothers (human and cow).
  • Jeannie Bishop is a lifelong dairy advocate and manages newborn and young calf care at her family’s dairy farm near Watertown, Wis. In addition to running her own farm, Bishop works with other dairy veterinarians and dairy farms across eastern Wisconsin to better the health of their animals. She hopes to share insights on how to better manage a work-life balance — something she’s learned a lot about in a career that offers no vacation days or sick leave.
  • Melissa Gaglione started the clothing company Safety4Her Inc., after struggling to find comfortable safety clothing that fit properly for her job in the towing industry. Safety4Her Inc. provides high-visibility clothing for women working in the trades.
  • Reichl has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering and her doctoral research looked at light-weight methods to reduce vibrations in aircrafts.

Working Moms of Milwaukee launched Working Moms Day last year as a way to celebrate working moms. With the Wisconsin dairy industry generating $46.5 billion in economic impact and 154,000 jobs annually, Working Moms of Milwaukee is excited to highlight women from this important field of work in this year’s virtual panel.

“Working Moms Day is about gathering together to talk about the issues that matter most to moms in our community,” said Susannah Lago, founder of Working Moms of Milwaukee. “The Future of Women in Farming & STEM event is a great opportunity for moms, and daughters, to learn from their fellow women about being leaders in typically male-dominated careers.”

To RSVP for the free Women in Farming & STEM virtual event, visit the official Facebook event which includes the Zoom link to join at noon CT March 12.

Read science teachers

Science teachers learn about feeding & fueling the world

The future of the agriculture industry depends on the next generation finding a passion for this industry. One way to reach those students is to first reach their teachers. Over 30 science teachers from across the country participated in the first Nourish the Future: Feeding and Fueling the World, a workshop sponsored by National Corn Growers Association.

Using supplies mailed to them ahead of time, this group engaged in a variety of lessons to understand more about the science of food production and sustainable fuels. When students learn about the productivity of the industry and its opportunities, it increases the interest in agriculture careers. 

Robyn Allscheid, NCGA Director of Research and Productivity, talked about NCGA’s support for education and how she got involved in this career.

“We’d like to help students become aware of all the careers related to agriculture,” Allscheid said. “Helping students see what opportunities are out there in agriculture is important to bringing on the next generation of scientists and researchers.”

Randy DeSutter, a farmer from western Illinois, serves as the chairman of the Sustainable Ag Research Action Team (SARAT) for NCGA. He praised the teachers for their enthusiasm for learning, as evidenced by their participation in the workshop. DeSutter spoke of the need for students to further science in agriculture.

“I have seen yields double in the past 40 years that I’ve been farming because of research and technology,” he said. “And advancements in science and technology are important and necessary to continue moving our industry forward.”

Christine Girtain presented along with educationprojects.org‘s Heather Bryan and Jane Hunt. Girtain is currently serving as a Nourish the Future (NTF) teacher leader coach, using her educational expertise to benefit the NTF program. The presentation team led activities from each curriculum area on the NTF website. Amy Aspenwall, another NTF teacher leader coach, provided on-site support.

The focus of the workshop was on the role of science in increasing yield for food and fuel and stewarding the environment. “All of these lessons frame up why farmers are using current practices to produce a good crop — everybody eats!” Bryan said.

Participants were very engaged and involved in the activities and added their own resources and tips. After discussing the soil and water labs, Patricia Arnold from Texas said, “I wish I would have had these resources in December for my AP Environmental Science class. That was when we covered U5 Land and Water Use. I will definitely use these next year!”

This workshop will be offered several more times this year. Teachers can watch the NTF website and social media channels for information on upcoming workshops.

Read female farmers

Study shows importance & unique characteristics of female farmers

In March we celebrate Women’s History Month. Women have a deep history in agriculture and the vital role they play in our industry. While they have a deep history, there is also a great future in agriculture for women. While women can be drawn into farming for many reasons, researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have found that female-owned farms in the U.S. are more common in areas that are closer to urban markets, that engage in agritourism activity, and that offer greater access to childcare.

The number of farms operated by women has risen over the past two decades, said Claudia Schmidt, assistant professor of marketing and local/regional food systems.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the way it counts the operators of farms in its most recent Census of Agriculture, allowing for up to four principal operators per farm. This has inflated the number of female operators somewhat, but female participation in agriculture is nonetheless at an all-time high, said Schmidt.

“This type of research is needed not just for reasons of equity, but also to support a more diverse and resilient agricultural sector in general,” said Schmidt. “Without knowing more about female farm-operators’ decision making, agricultural service providers have had to make assumptions about the type of information and products that are useful to them. Our analysis shows some of the ways in which female-owned farms are unique and it can offer important insights into how best to serve this population.”

Using data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture from 2002 to 2017, Schmidt and her colleagues developed a statistical model to examine the relationship between a county’s share of female-operated farms and the conditions in the county. Their goal was to shed light on aspects of the local economic and agricultural ecosystems that are most strongly associated with female-owned farms.

The researchers identified 10 economic variables hypothesized to matter, including unemployment, non-farm wages, availability of childcare, and the rate of female participation in the labor force. They also examined the total number of farms, average farm size and annual sales, average farmer age, and the types of farm activities carried out. They looked at each variable in isolation to determine which variables are independently and most strongly associated with the share of female-operated farms.

“We wanted to understand why women are drawn to farming,” said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. “Is it because they want to engage in this kind of work, or is it because they are pushed into farming due to a lack of other economic opportunities locally? We also wanted to examine how local agricultural conditions — what farming generally looks like in a given place — relate to women’s participation in agriculture.”

The analysis, which was recently published in Food Policy, shows that more female-owned farms are found where average farm size is below 50 acres, where annual farm sales average less than $10,000 per farm, where more farms specialize in grazing sheep or goats, and where agritourism activities — which attract visitors to farms — are more common.

The researchers also found that direct-to-consumer sales are more prevalent in counties with more female-owned farms. It is therefore not surprising that urban areas with high population densities have more female-owned farms than more rural areas do, said Goetz.

“Our findings suggest that females are more likely to engage in the type of farming that benefits from being in or near urban locations,” said Goetz. “In addition to offering more opportunities to market directly to consumers, urban and suburban locations also offer greater access to childcare than rural areas, and our research showed the availability of childcare is correlated with the number of female-owned farms in a county.”

The researchers also noted that the share of farms with female operators is higher in counties with a greater total number of farms, which could reflect increased opportunities for networking and learning through knowledge-sharing networks.

“Our research suggests that female-owned farms are more common in certain economic and agricultural ecosystems,” Schmidt said. “Therefore, they likely have different needs in terms of education and support, and this research is an important step in identifying these differences.”

Among other questions, future research will look at the impact of female-owned farms on local economic and agricultural conditions.

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