Dec 15, 2022
Ag labor reform pushed by industry groups

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), USApple and Western Growers are supporting two U.S. lawmakers who want to reform ag labor.

At a Dec. 15 media conference, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) introduced the Affordable and Secure Food Act. The legislation aims to provide reliable, legal farm labor, lower food prices for American families and secure the U.S. food supply, according to a news release.

Bennet and Newhouse are seeking to have immigration protections added to the omnibus appropriations bill currently being negotiated in Congress.

The bill would:
• Provide earned legal status to experience workers who pay a fine, go through a background check and commit to working in agriculture in the future.
• Freeze the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for one year with a cap on future increases of 3 percent for most states, and
• Help secure the border with E-Verify for agricultural employers after the workforce reforms have been enacted.

“Apple growers face an untenable future as input costs, particularly labor, continue to outpace even the high inflation of recent months,” Jim Bair, USApple’s president and CEO, said at the news conference. “The Affordable and Secure Food Act would stabilize the domestic agriculture workforce and provide critical reforms to the H-2A program. The clock is ticking, and the Senate must act now to provide the certainty and predictability needed by the apple industry and others in labor intensive agriculture.”

IFPA applauds the bill to reform the H-2A visa program, which would provide certainty for American agricultural producers and farmers desperately in need of reliable, legal workers.

“Crippling labor shortages have existed for years, so the fresh produce industry implores Congress to finally act on the most important thing that can be done to stabilize the agricultural workforce, ease the strain on the supply chain and lower the cost to consumers,” Robert Guenther, IFPA’s chief policy officer, said in a news release. “Congress must not kick the can down the road again or offer hollow promises of solving this problem for next year. Now is the time.”

Western Growers praised the Senate farm labor bill.

“We greatly appreciate the leadership and determination demonstrated by Senator Michael Bennet in bringing this bill forward,” Dave Puglia, Western Growers’ president and CEO, said in a statement. “Based on carefully negotiated principles enshrined in the bipartisan House Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the Bennet bill will provide regulated legal status to experienced agricultural workers and make desperately needed improvements to the existing guest worker program to better meet future farm labor needs.

“Approval of the Affordable and Secure Food Act will help ensure a stable, legal agricultural workforce and secure the reliability of our domestically produced food supply. The alternative – the deteriorating status quo – is to resign ourselves to food insecurity as we increasingly rely on foreign countries to provide food for our nation. We call on the Senate to take up and pass the Bennet bill in these final days of the lame duck session.”

US Apple’s Bair stressed the difficult economic straits faced by apple growers.

“Apple growers from coast-to-coast are hanging on by a thread as labor as input costs spiral out of control,” Bair said at the conference. “The reforms included in the Affordable and Secure Food Act would provide much needed stability and certainty for the agriculture workforce and predictability to the H-2A program. In short, it is good for both growers and workers. We thank Senator Bennet for bringing this proposal forward and urge the Senate to act swiftly.”


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