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On labor shortages and reform – lawmakers call for solutions

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The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 passed the House on March 18, 2021. It has now been 482 days since its passage as it awaits approval by the senate. Labor shortages have plagued the agricultural industry for decades, but the pandemic, war in Ukraine, and rising costs have only increased farmers’ challenges.

In 1986, bi-partisan leadership in the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Control and Reform Act under President Ronald Reagan. This legislation was critical — but this was 36 years ago. There is no doubt that the time has come to ensure that America has a legal, reliable workforce to help secure our food supply and reduce food costs for its citizens.

On July 11, agricultural leaders joined Republican members of Congress to discuss the bipartisan workforce solutions act that addresses labor shortages. A video of the conference is available here

Texas A&M University recently published a study exploring the connection between consumer prices, labor costs, and immigration in the United States. Associate Professor Sean Maddan discussed the study’s findings, which include:

1. More migrant and more H-2A workers are related to lower inflation
2. More migrant and more H-2A workers are associated with higher average wages and minimum wages
3. More migrant and more H-2A workers are associated with lower unemployment
4. More denied petitions for naturalization are associated with larger consumer prices and higher inflation
5. More petitions for naturalization are associated with lower inflation


Attending the press conference on July 11 were Representatives Dan Newhouse, Jim Baird, Doug LaMalfa, and Simpson.

Attendees discussed the burden the H-2A system put on workers, farmers, ranchers, and dairymen. The current system does not allow for non-seasonal workers. Most livestock operations run year-round and are unable to utilize the H-2A system. Workers can’t work if they can’t get here legally. And, if workers can’t work, then farmers can’t farm. If farmers can’t farm, our food supply chain is at risk, and the cost of feeding families goes up.

Representative Dan Newhouse spoke in favor of the act, saying, “Agricultural producers around the country are truly facing a labor crisis…If we don’t have an adequate workforce, crops go unplanted, unharvested, go to waste, and it contributes to an already compromised food supply chain and puts our whole system at risk. And contributes to a high cost of food in grocery stores.”

Jim Baird expressed his concern for the American farmer and their ability to meet current demands, “Across the country, our farmers are struggling, and they’re struggling to navigate the soaring costs of supply chain issues as well as the ongoing labor shortage that has tested the limits of this foundational industry. Laws and regulations around agricultural migrant labor have not been reexamined or amended for decades now. As a result, American farmers and ranchers are woefully unequipped to meet the demands of modern production.”

Cathy Burns, CEO International Fresh Produce Association, also addressed the labor shortage. “The people out picking in this heat right now are the people we are fighting for. We have a labor crisis. We have a nutrition crisis. We have an economic crisis. And if I think about what this reform can do to help all three of those, we are living in a country right now that if we don’t change the trajectory of the eating habits of the next generation, this will be the first generation that does not live as long as their parents.

We need to be able to provide a safe, nutritious supply of fruits and vegetables every day. We get affordable products with access to labor. We are at record high inflation numbers; we need the labor in order to support production into the grocery stores and restaurants that we serve.”

 

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