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Dairy Pivotal to July Ag Labor Reform Progress

August 2, 2021

Ag labor reform activity heated up in July, with dairy at the heart of action crucial to advancing long-term goals of greater workforce stability.

In the House of Representatives, Congressmen Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced an amendment to the FY 2022 appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security that would allow dairy producers to access the H-2A agricultural guestworker program for the fiscal year. The amendment would remove the seasonality requirement for H-2A visas for the fiscal year and allow farmers working in year-round sectors to hire H-2A workers to supplement their domestic workforce during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Although the amendment was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on July 13, that doesn’t make the much-needed reform real, as amendments to appropriations measures that focus on immigration reform typically are removed from final packages. Still, as explained by Claudia Larson, NMPF Senior Director of Government Relations, in a July 15 “Adams on Agriculture” podcast, the amendment’s positive effects go beyond the amendment itself, as it adds momentum to our wider effort bipartisan ag labor reform efforts.

On the Senate side, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing July 21 focusing on the importance of immigrant farmworkers, with testimony from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack followed by farmers and farmworker organization representatives. Former dairy farmer Linnea Kooistra of Illinois was invited to testify by Committee Chair Richard Durbin (D-IL) on her more than 40 years of experience in the industry, sharing the urgency of dairy’s labor needs.

NMPF in a statement thanked the committee and Durbin for highlighting the importance of immigrant farmworkers to the nation’s food supply and rural communities and called on the Senate to craft its own ag labor reform measure, building on and improving upon the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that passed in the House in March.

Beyond Capitol Hill, Vilsack and Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) hosted an ag roundtable in dairy-dense Cobleskill, New York on July 16, hearing from farmers and farmworkers on the unworkability of the current ag labor system, with dairy producers speaking to the special challenges the industry faces. NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern commended USDA and Rep. Delgado for supporting ag labor reform and organizing the roundtable meeting, noting that conversations need “to turn into action in congressional corridors so that farmers and farmworkers can benefit from a workable labor system.”

NMPF will continue its work building bipartisan support for ag workforce reform legislation that will address dairy’s workforce challenges, including protecting current workers and providing dairy meaningful access to a guestworker program that allows producers to remain competitive.