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Farm Labor Shortages

A Glimmer of Hope for Immigration Reform?

Bryan Little, FELS COO

July 8, 2016

The American Farm Bureau Federation is the Washington, DC-based national affiliate of FELS's parent organization, California Farm Bureau; AFBF has released a video that shines a spotlight on the frustrations of the nation’s farmers in finding workers to harvest their crops. While the video highlights peach production in Georgia, it also outlines the scope of the farm labor problem across the U.S.

Hiring a seasonal skilled workforce to bring crops in from the fields to America’s tables has proved to be difficult if not impossible for farmers. That’s why many farmers rely heavily on a program called H-2A, through which the federal government grants foreign nationals short-term visas to help harvest crops.

“This is a serious issue for farmers across America,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “If you have a crop that’s ready and your harvest window is narrow and your workers show up late – you’re going to lose your crop.  We’re going to have to make a choice,” Duvall added. “We either have to import our labor – workers to harvest our crops – or we’ll have to import our food.”

An informal survey of state Farm Bureaus revealed that farmers in at least 22 states using the H-2A program have been affected by administrative delays that have caused workers to arrive days and even weeks late – leading to a variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops rotting in the field.

 The situation is dire for Georgia peach farmer Robert Dickey. He and numerous other farmers have found there’s simply too much red tape, too much paperwork and too many delays associated with the H-2A program.  “It could cost us our farm in one season,” Dickey said.

 Farm Bureau is calling for Congress to pass responsible immigration reform that provides farmers access to a legal and stable workforce. You can download the AFBF video at this link.

At the same time, Republican gadfly and one-time GOP presidential candidate Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina predicts Republicans will be thrashed in the upcoming fall election, and that thrashing will trigger another attempt at comprehensive immigration reform; according to Graham, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2017, I’m going to take the Gang of Eight bill (the failed 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill) out, dust it off and ask anybody and everybody who wants to work with me to make it better to do so.”

The 2013 bill was an outgrowth of Republican's worries about their poor showing among Latino voters, and though it passed the Senate handily, it failed in the House of Representatives.

You can read more about these glimmers of hope for immigration reform in the July 5 edition of Politico, "Immigration reformers eye Gang of 8 revival."