April 14, 2024

The Zipline: Farmers come to Capitol Hill to call for ag labor reform

Farmers and ranchers rely on skilled workers, both seasonally and year-round, to produce the safe, sustainable food on which all Americans depend.

For decades now, farmers and ranchers have been advocating for a solution to our nation’s broken agricultural labor system. Yet, instead of progress, we’ve only seen this situation get worse as the number of skilled workers continues to dwindle and programs like H-2A fail to keep up with the changing needs of agriculture.

From across the country, our farmers and ranchers have raised their voices that the shortage of labor is the greatest limiting factor on their farms and some have given up farming because of labor costs, like April Clayton, who testified before Washington state lawmakers about the heart-wrenching decision to rent out their land instead of farming it.

That is why at Farm Bureau, ag labor remains at the top of our priority list. We’re committed to advocating for meaningful reform to immigration and guest worker programs while focusing on making sure we get it right for all our farm and ranch families.

Fortunately, we have seen some movement as the House Committee on Agriculture’s Agriculture Labor Working Group recently released their final report, making it clear, once again, that there is bipartisan agreement on the need to improve the H-2A program to better serve American agriculture.

Now it’s time to turn up the volume on our advocacy efforts to ensure that Congress doesn’t just agree on the problem but also provides a solution.

One of the most powerful tools to inspire action are the real life stories of farmers and ranchers across the country. Time and time again, I have seen firsthand how effective our members are in impacting policy, and I know that ag labor is no exception.

It’s your experiences that will continue to paint a vivid picture for our elected officials of just how urgently this change is needed for our farms and the hardworking men and women we employ.

Just this week, several Farm Bureau members from across the country who run different types of farms came to our nation’s capital to meet with members of Congress and share their unique perspective and insights on the urgency of addressing ag labor for their farms to succeed.

For example, we had John Boelts, a diversified crop farmer from Arizona, come to discuss how the success of his family farm and employees are at risk as labor has become the biggest issue in their state with a new minimum wage rate and shortage of labor.

We also welcomed Karin Reeves from New York here to share the story of how many mid-size vegetable and fruit operations are facing the challenge of going under due to the H-2A wage calculation and their inability to compete with imports from Canada and Mexico.

April Clayton also joined us to share with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., the same harsh reality she shared with lawmakers in her home state.

This is just a snapshot of what is happening on farms across the country, as farmers struggle to sustain their businesses with rising costs and limited resources.

The challenges of agricultural labor can no longer be ignored. We must ensure a manageable, accessible and sustainable guest worker program that allows us to keep providing jobs on our farms at competitive wages, as we work alongside our employees to keep our nation’s food supply secure and sustainable.

Our farmers and ranchers have had to grapple with these challenges for far too long and with each passing season a larger threat of loss grows for our farms, our workers and our nation’s food security.

It’s imperative that Congress hear the stories from our grassroots members and deliver a solution that works for all of agriculture.

Zippy Duvall

Zippy Duvall

Zippy Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Georgia, is the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.