US dairy groups pressure Senate to act on labor reform

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

"Dairy farmers face labor shortages while they are forced to navigate the deeply uncertain and volatile realities undergirding agriculture labor in the US." Pic: Getty/Highwaystarz-Photography
"Dairy farmers face labor shortages while they are forced to navigate the deeply uncertain and volatile realities undergirding agriculture labor in the US." Pic: Getty/Highwaystarz-Photography

Related tags: legislation, Congress, Agriculture, Dairy Farm, Dairy farmers, Dairy farming

After the House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) late last year, dairy organizations are reminding the Senate why they feel it’s crucial to the future of agriculture labor. Young farmers are also speaking out for essential program funding.

This week the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) visited US Senate offices to advocate for the labor bill and ensure a more stable, secure workforce for US dairy.

NMPF said that labor shortages in dairy are ‘more intense’ than agriculture as a whole because they cannot use the H-2A farmworker program. It only provides for seasonal labor rather than year-round workers needed in dairy. And domestic workers are hard to find while foreign labor is difficult to navigate under current US policies.

In December the House passed the FWMA, which allows for year-round visas in dairy. NMPF called the bill ‘imperfect’ but a necessary step in moving toward a solution. It expects more work to be done in the Senate to improve upon the House measure.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, said, “The situation is dire. Dairy farmers face labor shortages while they are forced to navigate the deeply uncertain and volatile realities undergirding agriculture labor in the US. Meanwhile, uncertainty on the farm harms individuals and rural communities that rely on those farms to generate jobs.”

Critical federal funding

In collaboration with the Organic Valley Cooperative, the National Young Farmers Coalition was also active on Capitol Hill this week. They said they spoke to members of Congress about the obstacles faced by young, organic farmers and ranchers in building successful agriculture careers.

Access to quality, affordable farmland and technical assistance are top priorities of young farmers. The Coalition said the demographic is 17 times more likely to be organic than the national average.

“Young farmers are innovative, and they are on the cutting-edge of entrepreneurship and ecological stewardship,” ​the groups said, but noted that “farmland is prohibitively expensive and climate change threatens their ability to make a living off the land.”

The farmers are looking for information and data about who exactly owns US farmland, as land access is the top barrier to young farmers’ success. The USDA is in the midst of completing an updated Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey, which will give a clearer picture on this.

The Coalition is requesting that Congress fund the TOTAL survey with $3m for FY21. They are also asking for $840m toward Conservation Operations, which assists farmers and ranchers in stewarding natural resources and combating climate change.

Lastly, the Young Farmers are asking Congress to fully fund the National Organic Program at $20m. It oversees certification and directly works with young farms.

Sanaz Arjomand, Young Farmers’ Federal Policy Director, said, “Congress has made significant progress in recent years towards better serving beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and we commend them for their efforts.

“However, we cannot afford to delay in recruiting, training, and supporting this next generation of business owners and environmental stewards. Federal funding plays a critical role in furthering this support for young farmers, and we are hopeful that Congress will act on funding these crucial farm bill programs.”

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