Apr 3, 2019Western Growers president testifies on ag labor shortages
On April 3, Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif detailed the critical labor shortages facing American agriculture and laid out the case for agricultural immigration reform before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
In his testimony, Nassif stated that experienced workers are aging out of the agricultural workforce with few Americans lining up to take their place, despite wages well above state and federal minimums. Farmers in all sectors of U.S. agriculture, especially in the labor-intensive fruit and vegetable industries, are experiencing chronic labor shortages, which have been exacerbated by recent interior immigration enforcement and tighter border security policies. As a result of the uncertain agricultural labor market, Nassif noted that many American farmers are either shifting toward more mechanized crops or moving their operations to other countries.
“The simple fact is this,” Nassif articulated, “fruits and vegetables that are eaten in the United States will be harvested by foreign hands.” He continued: “The simple question for you, as members of Congress, is do you want those foreign hands harvesting your fruits and vegetables to be on farms here in the United States or do you want to see production continue to shift to farms in foreign countries?”
After touching on the existing, flawed H-2A agricultural guest worker program, rife with burdensome regulatory red tape, Nassif outlined a two-pronged proposal for agricultural immigration reform that jointly provides a pathway to legalization for existing farmworkers and their immediate families and creates a more flexible, efficient and market-based agricultural worker visa program to ensure a sufficient future flow of labor.
Nassif concluded that while “immigration can be among the most divisive and difficult to resolve in Washington,” this issue is decidedly non-partisan, as agricultural immigration reform is really about securing the future of American agriculture and, by extension, long-term U.S. food security.
Western Growers appreciates the efforts of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Ranking Member Ken Buck to elevate the dialogue around this vital issue, and we look forward to working across the aisle to advance bipartisan legislation that provides our country and farmers with a legal, stable and reliable source of agricultural labor.
Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Our members and their workers provide half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including half of America’s fresh organic produce. For generations we have provided variety and healthy choices to consumers. Connect with and learn more about Western Growers on our Twitter and Facebook.
Ag Workforce Coalition seeks action
The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) issued the following statement regarding the April 3 hearing:
“Today’s hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship shines a light on the labor crisis being faced by farmers, ranchers and growers across the U.S. We would like to thank Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Ranking Member Ken Buck for holding this hearing and bringing attention to an issue that will impact the future of American agriculture. The impact goes far beyond the farm gate, as each on-farm employee supports two to three other jobs up and down the food and agriculture supply chain.
“The AWC hopes that this hearing will lead to legislation that preserves agriculture’s experienced workforce and provides for agriculture’s future needs with a flexible, market-based agricultural worker visa program that provides access to a legal and reliable workforce moving forward. It is important that any legislation recognizes the needs of all producers, those with seasonal needs and those with year-round work.
“We look forward to working with the committee to move forward legislation in a bipartisan, bicameral way so as to find a legislative path for vital immigration reform for agriculture.”
The AWC brings together organizations representing the diverse needs of agricultural employers across the country. The coalition serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce now and in the future.