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June 17, 2013

Farmers Hit DC to Push for Immigration Reform

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

The nation’s farmers aren’t leaving the issue of immigration to pundits to talk about. They’re going to Capitol Hill themselves to makes sure the nation’s lawmakers understand how important immigration reform is for agriculture in this country. AFBF Director of Grassroots and Policy Advocacy Cody Lyon, Gene Richard works with Pennsylvania mushroom farmers, Christmastree farmer Fred Strathmeyer and dairy farmer John Dotterer talk about the effort in this report from AFBF’s Johnna Miller.
Miller:The big debate in the Senate right now is immigration reform. Farmers from all over the country are coming to Capitol Hill to make sure senators hear from the people who are directly affected by this controversial issue. American Farm Bureau Grassroots and Policy Advocacy Director Cody Lyon explains why they’re making the trip.
Lyon:It’s been six years since we really had the last conversation on immigration reform and it’s been more than two decades since Congress passed an immigration reform bill. This is really important for farmers and ranchers, so we want to make sure this is done right, and that the system works.
Miller:One of the major existing problems with the law is that the program to bring in foreign workers is for seasonal work only. That excludes a lot of farmers who need a reliable workforce year-round, such as mushroom growers. Gene Richard works with mushroom growers in Pennsylvania.
Richard:The other day I was talking to a local grower and he told me that he is 30 people short and for two straight days he didn’t get his mushrooms harvested and he figured that he lost anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 those two days because his mushrooms went from the mushrooms that you buy in a store to the mushrooms you buy in a can and the price went from about 85 cents a pound to about 35-40 cents a pound. So we’ve got to stress to our legislators that we can’t wait until tomorrow or the next day to get our products harvested. They have to be harvested on that day when they’re ready to be harvested. So we need some kind of immigration reform to give us a steady workforce.
Miller:Fred Strathmeyer is a Pennsylvania Christmastree farmer who uses the current system for foreign agricultural labor, called H-2A. He points out that before he can get a single foreign worker, he has to advertise for U.S. workers.
Strathmeyer:One of the stipulations of the H-2A program is to advertise. You advertise on CareerLink, which is a nationwide program and I can tell you in the 20 years that we’ve used the program, we may have had 20 people even apply for jobs in 20 years. And in most cases those people either don’t show up or they show up for one day and they don’t last.
Miller:Because these days American’s don’t aspire to be migrant farm workers. That’s just a fact. But Pennsylvania dairy farmer John Dotterer says someone has to do the work.
Dotterer:The cows need milked 365 days a year, three times a day and there’s no way around it. If we want to maintain our food supply in this country, we need to have the labor to do so. And the immigrant is supplying that labor. If you want to push our food production offshores we can continue to go down the road we’re at and pretty soon, in my opinion, there won’t be a whole lot of agriculture left to produce the food we need in this country.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
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