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Dairy Farmers Spotlight Ag Labor Reform Needs in Roundtable with Vilsack, Delgado

July 15, 2021

Dairy farmers are urging the government to address dairy’s acute labor shortages — and the need for the U.S. Senate to craft a counterpart to the House-passed bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act – in meetings today with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY), culminating in a roundtable discussion at SUNY-Cobleskill in Cobleskill, New York.

Vilsack and Delgado will talk with farmers and farmworkers to address the unworkability of current farm-labor policies. Dairy faces special challenges as a year-round, around-the-clock agricultural sector because the current rules of the H-2A guestworker visa program limits its use to only the temporary and seasonal labor needs of agricultural employers.

“Unfortunately, the Department of Labor hasn’t made available the current H-2A program for a commodity that ‘harvests’ its product multiple times a day, every day,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation in a statement before the event. “We commend USDA and Rep. Delgado for supporting ag labor reform legislation and organizing this important discussion.”

NMPF supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act as a vehicle for additional policy improvements and to prod Senate legislation that can be reconciled into a final bill that can pass both houses of Congress. Delgado was an early cosponsor of the legislation, which passed the House of Representatives by a solid bipartisan margin in 2019 and again in March. To build momentum for a solution, Vilsack hosted a bipartisan roundtable last month with key Senate negotiators and agricultural stakeholders, including NMPF.

“Without Senate action, the hard-won progress lawmakers have made on ag-labor issues won’t bring the solutions farmers need,” he said. “We need this conversation to turn into action in congressional corridors so that farmers and farmworkers can benefit from a workable labor system.”