Clements: Farm Bureau members from Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C., this week are talking with lawmakers about the need to reform ag labor laws. Julie Masser Ballay is the chief financial officer and vice president of Sterman Masser Inc. She says the availability of labor is the biggest issue facing her potato farming operations.
Ballay: We have a difficult time, just like many other operations, finding a stable workforce to help us plant and harvest our crops, as well as pack and distribute to all the grocery stores that we service. We have made a large investment in automation, but it still requires people. These are long hours because you have a short window in which you need to harvest and it’s difficult working conditions.
Clements: She says the current foreign ag labor program doesn’t do enough for her farm.
Ballay: We really require ag labor throughout the entire year, so it is very difficult to implement in the current biannual and ten-month restrictions. So, having a modification to that program to be able to be more nimble, and reduce the administrative costs in implementing it are very important to us.
Clements: With the farm bill deadline looming, she says it’s important to have a strong specialty crops program for her farm.
Ballay: It’s helping with research in different varieties that hopefully we’ll be able to use on our farms and in the east coast. The fresh fruit and vegetable portion within the nutrition section of the farm bill is extremely important to us as well. We absolutely want to encourage everybody to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet. These programs that are supporting individuals who may not be able to afford it on their own is extremely important.
Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.