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Flurry of Ag Labor Reform Work Closes Out Congress

January 5, 2023

NMPF joined with other agricultural organizations and farmworker groups in one final concerted effort in December to enact agricultural labor reform by the end of 2022, an effort that ultimately stalled but may create a framework for future progress.

Since March 2021, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) had been working to negotiate a bipartisan agreement for a Senate ag labor reform bill that would build upon and improve the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The two Senators had made progress toward a bipartisan compromise bill by December – an effort supported in a letter signed by more than 350 ag organizations sent Dec. 6 – but were unable to resolve all issues needed to introduce a bipartisan measure.

From those discussions, Senator Bennet used the points of agreement he had come to with Senator Crapo as the starting point for a Bennet-only ag labor reform bill. That bill, the Affordable and Secure Food Act, gained NMPF’s support by addressing dairy’s two overarching workforce needs – providing protection for current workers and their families, and providing dairy access to the H-2A program – in spite of other weaknesses in the bill, such as its cap on the number of year-round worker visas.

NMPF participated in Sen. Bennet’s press conference announcing the bill’s introduction Dec. 15, and NMPF’s Claudia Larson joined a panel discussion broadcast by Agri-Pulse which focused on ag labor reform and the Affordable and Secure Food Act. In addition to NMPF-targeted outreach to numerous Senate Republican offices, NMPF also continued working with the Agricultural Workforce Coalition – an umbrella organization representing farm groups – to send a clear message to Senate leadership that ag-labor reform is urgent and necessary.

Those efforts fell short. Ultimately, Sen. Bennet’s measure was not included in the government spending bill to which it needed to be attached so it could receive a Congressional vote in 2022. However, the reform efforts and public pressure built in the 117th Congress have left a nationwide impression on the urgent need for ag labor reform. These efforts have laid an important foundation for future work in DC, and NMPF will continue leading the charge to ensure dairy’s needs are represented in any future reforms.