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November 1, 2012

AFBF Plan Would Meet Labor Crisis Head On

For more information on Newsline, contact: Cyndie Sirekis, Director, News Services, American Farm Bureau Federation, cyndies@fb.org.

 
The American Farm Bureau Federation is advocating a new plan to fix the labor problem plaguing U.S. agriculture. AFBF Labor Specialist Kristi Boswell talks about why labor groups are coming together to work on this issue. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has the story.
Miller:The nation’s largest farm organization has developed a plan to implement a new visa program that would assure that the nation’s farmers will have access to the labor they need. 
Boswell:This really encompasses all of agriculture. The proposals that have been presented in the past have helped certain segments of agriculture but maybe didn’t do enough for other sectors. This proposal is something that truly will work for a farmer in California who needs laborers for four days for a strawberry harvest and a dairy producer who needs workers for 365 days a year.
Miller:American Farm Bureau Labor Specialist Kristi Boswell says the new program would encompass the best parts of the current program – called H-2A – but would be more affordable and flexible for the workers and the employers by offering an option of working under a contract or on an “at will” basis. 
Boswell:There have been situations where they needed a workforce earlier because things ripened faster than they expected and there were no workers there because they were still going through the process. Having that built in flexibility is very, very critical. Harvest is very hard to predict and it has a lot of factors. So being on that stringent administrative, bureaucratic timeline makes it very difficult for growers. One thing this recommendation does is it changes the administration of the program from the Department of Labor to the USDA, hoping that the USDA understands the intricacies of agriculture and the difficulties at predicting harvest season and weather issues that may come up.
Miller:Boswell acknowledges that the legal status of much of the nations farm labor supply is questionable, but the truth of the matter is domestic workers do not want to do this work.
Boswell:The reality is we have not seen domestic workers taking these jobs. They are seasonal in nature and they’re very hard for someone to have a stable position who needs to provide for their families here long term in a community setting. A survey done by the National Council of Agricultural Employers found that 5 percent of domestic referrals in the H-2A program stay the entire course of the contract period. That’s very, very small. We have to have a more reliable workforce than that. 
Miller:The whole issue is very controversial, but Boswell says there is optimism that the new Congress may actually tackle it.
Boswell:Regardless of the outcome of the election this week we see a window early next Congress to really push hard for this. We have champions on the Hill that are looking to us for a solution, that want agriculture to come together.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
Miller:We have two extra actualities with AFBF Labor Specialist Kristi Boswell. In the first extra actuality she talks about how the Farm Bureau’s labor recommendation combines the old and the new. The cut runs 31 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Boswell:Our recommendation encompasses the positives of the H-2A program, however, H-2A does not work for a lot of agriculture. Right now it only encompasses 4 percent of agricultural labor. It does not work for a grower who has a very short season or there are states that have a hard time allowing growers to build on the farm housing. It’s very expensive and it’s become very bureaucratic. So we are hoping to eliminate some of that bureaucratic red tape and have a program that’s more market based, that provides more flexibility both for growers and for workers.
Miller:In the second extra actuality Boswell says the program offers incentives for illegal farm workers to become legal workers. The cut runs 23 seconds, in 3-2-1.
Boswell:There’s absolutely more incentive for a worker under this program to come out of the shadows if they’re currently here, or to come across and have more flexibility in being able to work for multiple registered employers, either under contract or at will and it gives them more choices in this situation if they’re unhappy at a particular farm, they can go work at another farm and that is the flexibility that workers desire.
Miller:Newsline is updated Mondays and Thursdays by 5pm Eastern time. Thank you for listening

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