Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants, and the damage from losing those workers would extend far beyond the farms, nearly doubling retail milk prices and costing the total U.S. economy more than $32 billion, according to a new NMPF report released in September 2015.
Last fall, the National Milk Producers Federation commissioned a national survey of dairy farms to examine the role and importance of hired immigrant labor. Immigrant labor was considered a major contributor to the economic sustainability of more than a third of the dairy farms surveyed. And with the 2016 presidential campaign already in full swing, the topic has real-world implications for the dairy sector, from farmers to consumers.
The survey, an update of one done in 2009 by Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research center, shows the number of immigrants working on dairy farms has increased by 35 percent – or nearly 20,000 – in six years. The portion of the milk supply coming from farms with immigrant labor increased by 27 percent.
Today, the report estimated that dairy farms employ about 150,418 workers, about 75 percent of whom are full-time and 51.2 percent (76,968) are immigrants.
It concluded that eliminating immigrant labor would reduce the U.S. dairy herd by 2.1 million cows, milk production by 48.4 billion pounds and the number of farms by 7,011.
Retail milk prices, the report said, would increase 90 percent if all immigrant labor was lost. That would drive the supermarket price of a gallon of milk, which averaged $3.37 in June, to approximately $6.40.
The U.S. economy would lose $32.1 billion and 208,208 jobs.
As a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation dealing with comprehensive immigration reform, members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) held a press conference highlighting the crucial stake American agriculture, including dairy farming, had in the debate.
NMPF, which was a founding member of the AWC, had made fixing the broken immigration system one of its highest priorities over the past decade. NMPF’s President & CEO Jerry Kozak told press conference attendees that “what we’re working with lawmakers to do is not merely fixing a broken system, but scrapping an old set of unworkable rules and replacing it with something better.”
NMPF joined a broad cross-section of organizations representing agricultural employers in a collective effort to reform federal immigration policies.
NMPF said it was one of the founding members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC). AWC’s goal was to seek legislation that ensures America’s farms, ranches and other agricultural operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce – an effort in which NMPF has been engaged for much of the past decade.
A comprehensive national survey of the employment practices of America’s dairy farmers found that they rely heavily on foreign-born workers, the loss of which would cripple many farms and create a ripple effect of job losses through the rural economy, according to NMPF, which sponsored the survey.
Working with researchers at Texas AgriLife Research, a component of the Texas A&M University System, NMPF surveyed more than 2,000 dairy farms last fall to assess their hiring practices. The survey found that U.S. dairies employed 138,000 full-time equivalent workers, of which 57,000, or 41%, were foreigners.
Respondents reported that they paid their workers $506 in average weekly wages, while most also reported providing at least one non-wage benefit to employees, such as paid vacation, housing, and/or insurance. Those non-wage benefits brought average dairy workers salaries in 2008 to $31,521, significantly higher than salaries in the landscaping, ranching, and fast food sectors, which employ similar proportions of immigrant workers.
Texas AgriLife Research estimated that if federal labor and immigrant policies were to result in the loss of just half of the 57,000 foreign-born dairy workers, an additional 66,000 workers would also be lost, due to the closure of some dairy farms, and the resulting multiplier effect of fewer jobs in grain and fertilizer production and sales, veterinary services, milk hauling, and related agricultural service jobs. This would produce an economic loss of $11 billion.