DAIRY Act would extend H2-A program to benefit dairy farms in need of year-long immigrant labor

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

The Dairy Act would extend the H2-A worker program from seasonal to year-long visas. ©iStock/SW_Photo
The Dairy Act would extend the H2-A worker program from seasonal to year-long visas. ©iStock/SW_Photo

Related tags Dairy farmers Dairy farming

The Defending the Agricultural Industry’s Requirements Year-round Act of 2017 (DAIRY Act), a new immigration reform policy for dairy operations, was recently introduced to Congress aiming to ensure that US dairy producers have a reliable source of labor.

The DAIRY Act was introduced by US representative (R-WI) and co-chair of the Congressional Dairy Farm Caucus, Sean Duffy, with support from the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) who said it “will work hard with Rep. Duffy to move this bill to the finish line.”

Expansion of H2-A program

The new legislation allows dairy farmers to better utilize the H-2A visa worker program, which previously could not be used due to its stipulation of year-round labor.

“Our farmers provide their products to market year-round, not just for a season. Dairy farmers and dairy workers alike deserve more certainty in this labor program, and my bill does just that,”​ Duffy said in a statement.

According to the ADC, ​dairy farmers have been waiting for a provision to utilize the H2-A visa category to legally employ immigrant workers to fill important roles that domestic workers continually pass up. The ADC said the H2-A visa is a vital tool to provide year-round labor for dairy operations.

However, NMPF president Jim Mulhern said last month that the approach to addressing dairy farmers’ needs should not be “centered on reforming H-2A”​ and instead requires “another approach.”

Labor remains forefront issue for dairy

The issue of immigrant labor has been a top-of-mind concern for the US dairy sector as 51% of the dairy industry workers are foreign-born, this site previously reported​.

However, small dairy farms have spoken out against changes to immigration legislation because it would only benefit “mega dairies”​ and that increased immigrant labor has caused an oversupply of milk making it impossible for small, independent dairies to compete in the marketplace.

“We have an oversupply of milk in this country that is exacerbated by the dairies that depend on an illegal labor force,”​ a small dairy farmer commented on DairyReporter.

“I am tired of hearing how large dairies will face their demise without illegal labor. Any business model dependent on illegal labor is a flawed business model that should face demise.”

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