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Ag labor needs visa program
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Ag labor needs visa program

MADISON, Wis. – The Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative met to discuss policy during the recent World Dairy Expo. Among the issues discussed were the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, milk pricing and dairy-farmer sentiment heading into the 2022 congressional mid-term election year.

Mykel Wedig, associate director of government affairs for the cooperative, said agricultural labor is the main concern of Edge’s members. The Farm Workforce Moderation Act would create a new temporary-worker visa program for current farmworkers.

“We like the bill,” said John Holevoet, director of government affairs for Edge. “It already passed in the (U.S.) House and we’re hopeful it will pass in the (U.S.) Senate.”

The U.S. Congress is currently working on several pieces of legislation, but there are still opportunities for action this fall on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, Wedig said.

Many in the agricultural industry have long been advocating for legislative reform concerning foreign workers. Because of labor shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, legislative reform recently has gained greater attention from the non-farming public. That could be a negative or a positive, Holevoet said.

“At least more people are talking about the labor issue,” he said.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren-D-California-19-San Jose, and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse-R-Washington-04-Yakima. It establishes a program for agricultural workers in the United States – and their spouses and minor children – to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment.

The bill also provides a process for farm workers to seek certified agricultural-worker status – temporary status for those who have worked at least 180 days in agriculture in the past two years. The status could be renewed indefinitely with continued farm work of at least 100 days per year.

The Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative also supports reform of the milk-pricing system. Christina Zuiderveen is a cooperative member and a dairy farmer in business with her family in Iowa and South Dakota. She testified in September on Capitol Hill at a hearing of the U.S. Senate-Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security. She focused on disparities in the prices farmers are paid, the negative impact of pricing factors on farmer ability to use risk-management tools and milk-check transparency.

Visit dairyforward.com and lofgren.house.gov – search for "Farm Workforce Modernization Act" – for more information. 

This article was edited to remove reference to an informal poll; Agri-View learned only 17 people completed the questions, which makes the poll statistically unreliable.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.

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