Labor & Rural Policy

Labor and Immigration Reform Efforts

Even as technology becomes a greater part of agriculture, much of dairy farming remains labor-intensive. U.S. dairy farmers rely on skilled workers to care for their animals, milk cows and tend crops.

Many dairy farmers struggle to recruit and retain native workers despite higher wages and benefits, making immigrant labor an increasingly important part of the dairy workforce. A recent study estimates that immigrants make up over one-half of all dairy workers. The uncertainty that undergirds agricultural labor and immigration in the U.S. continues to harm workers and their families, farm employers, rural communities and national food security.

Dairy farmers continue face the same shortage of domestic workers as all of agriculture, but they do not have access to the H-2A farmworker program, which only provides for seasonal labor rather than the year-round workers dairy needs. Dairy farms will not be able to survive, let alone thrive, without a steady, reliable workforce. Congress must act to address dairy’s labor needs and ensure a stable food supply.

Our Position

NMPF strongly supports efforts to pass agriculture labor reform that provides permanent legal status to current workers and their families and gives dairy farmers access to a workable guestworker program.

Key Points

  • Agricultural labor reform is long overdue and dairy farmers urgently need access to a stable, legal workforce.
  • Immigrant labor accounts for 51 percent of all dairy labor, and dairies that employ immigrant labor produce 79 percent of the U.S. milk supply. If the U.S. dairy industry lost its foreign-born workforce, it would nearly double retail milk prices and cost the total U.S. economy more than $32 billion.
  • Dairy farmers cannot lose their current workers without massive disruption to their farms and to rural economies. Employees who have been working on dairy farms for years should be able to continue working and earn permanent legal status, as should their immediate families.
  • The H-2A guestworker visa program, used by many in agriculture to attract seasonal foreign labor, doesn’t fit dairy’s year-round needs, but could be improved to make the program workable for dairy farmers.
  • Through the National Dairy FARM Program’s Workforce Development program, dairy farmers are proactively implementing HR and safety management best practices; identifying which best practices are most useful to implement on their farm; and, tracking improvement over time.

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Dairy farmers feed our nation and world while supporting thousands of American jobs. Reliable infrastructure for producers and their cooperatives is a must to maintain and grow their businesses. Deteriorating rural roads, waterways, railways and ports threatens the viability of U.S. businesses and the communities that rely on them.

High-speed internet service is another critical piece of America’s infrastructure. Dairy farmers rely on broadband to implement new technologies, monitor animal health, and access continuing learning opportunities and telehealth services. Still, many rural communities where farmers live and work don’t have adequate access to reliable, affordable service.

Flexibility to haul milk and dairy products safely and efficiently is another important infrastructure priority for dairy. Farmers and processors rely heavily on commercial trucks to get milk from the farm to plants and to move dairy foods from the plants to grocery shelves across the country. These perishable products are perishable must move quickly and efficiently.

Our Position

NMPF advocates for investment in rural America’s infrastructure, including transportation, energy, water, healthcare and agricultural research funding.

As founder of the American Broadband Coalition, NMPF supports increased funding and coordination to create incentives to bring broadband connectivity to rural areas. NMPF also supports enhanced mapping of existing broadband coverage to better target broadband deployment to areas that truly lack adequate connectivity.

NMPF also advocates for efficient transportation policy solutions that ensures the safe movement of milk, recognizing that milk is a perishable commodity that haulers must move quickly from the farm to the processing plant.

Key Points

  • Transportation infrastructure improvements to highways, bridges, railways, waterways and ports are among dairy’s most obvious infrastructure needs. However, expanding broadband and telehealth access and updating agricultural research facilities are essential to the industry’s long-term health and competitiveness.
  • Efficient transportation of milk and dairy products globally is critical to U.S. dairy’s international competitiveness.
  • NMPF supports the development of a strong rural economy by promoting economic opportunity in rural areas; preserving and modernizing rural infrastructure; and establishing robust human services. Advanceing high-speed broadband and rural connectivity is central to this effort.
  • The dairy industry is committed to the safe transport of bulk milk and finished products, but it often must navigate a patchwork of different weight limitations and other logistics requirements across states and regions.

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Mental Health and Wellness

Dairy farmers have demanding jobs and face many challenges to maintaining their mental health. For many, farming isn’t just an occupation—it’s an identity, culture and family foundation. Operating a business with many variables beyond one’s control, including weather, commodity prices and trade disruptions, puts farmers at a higher risk of experiencing financial, physical and emotional stress. Also, many rural communities where dairy producers live and farm have limited access to mental health care services.

Farmer and farmworker mental well-being affects individuals and families, as well as farm productivity and animal health. NMPF helps meet the mental health challenges that dairy farmers and workers face through its advocacy and support of the bipartisan, Seeding Rural Resilience Act, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition launched by NMPF member cooperative Land O’Lakes, Inc., and other efforts to bring improved mental health resources to rural communities. See below for tools to manage stress and where to go for more information or immediate assistance.

Mental Health Resources

Managing Stress
Seeking Help