Spring is almost here, and that has many in agriculture getting ready to plant crops. It also has them weary of facing yet another year without enough workers to help them plant and harvest.
“Weary” is an appropriate word for talking about agricultural labor. Occasionally, a legislative proposal or opportunity comes along that gets everyone excited, only to leave us in the same situation the following spring.
Most bills are flawed in one way or another. That’s no indictment of those who put the proposals forward and try to address this challenge. It’s difficult to negotiate a proposal that is just right. Farm Bureau is grateful to the members of Congress, present and past, who have introduced thoughtful and well-intended legislation.
That said, the agricultural labor bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives late last year recognizes this critical issue. But the bill came with serious weaknesses that we’re working to fix in the Senate.
The House bill would create a visa program for farms and ranches with year-round, versus just seasonal, needs, such as dairy farms. That’s great, but the arbitrary cap on year-round visas is so low it will not meet demand. How can I look that farmer or rancher who didn’t get a year-round visa in the eyes and explain why the American Farm Bureau didn’t work harder to ensure that he or she finally got a solution? I can’t, and that’s just one reason why we’re working to ensure there is no cap for year-round visas in a Senate bill. After all, why would you want to limit food production in our country?
The complicated wage structure in the House bill would only continue the problems with the Adverse Effect Wage Rate. The American Farm Bureau is working to make changes in the Senate to provide a market-based, competitive wage that is affordable, that works for farmers and farm workers, and that takes into consideration the current economic pressures farmers face.
The bill also would increase farmers’ risk of facing frivolous lawsuits. The expansion of the “private right to action” to farm workers gives them the ability to sue employers even though they currently have administrative means of having employment claims addressed and resolved. The House bill would grant additional legal rights above and beyond existing rights. You can just imagine what a field day the trial lawyers would have with that one.
Those are just a few of the issues in the current ag labor bill that we are working on. Your American Farm Bureau is advocating for real solutions to meet agriculture’s labor needs. In fact, AFBF is in the best negotiating position today to make improvements to the agricultural worker program.
To all farmers and ranchers who are, understandably, feeling weary about agricultural labor, I want to say I have been in your shoes. Many days, when I was in the dairy business, there was too much to do and not enough capable, reliable hands to do it. Farmers’ and ranchers’ labor pressures are on top of many others you face, from markets to weather. You’re running at 90 miles an hour.
That’s exactly why it’s critical that the American Farm Bureau Federation is your voice in our nation’s capital. While you keep working from sunup to sundown to get all the work done on your farms, your Voice of Agriculture will keep working around the clock to enact legislation that helps all agricultural producers, regardless of what they produce or where they produce it, meet their labor needs. We must fix this, and we will.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.