Organizations representing a broad cross-section of agricultural employers on Friday announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. As the unified voice of agriculture, the AWC's goal is to seek legislation that ensures America's farms, ranches and other agricultural operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce.
In particular, the Coalition plans to put forward a framework that includes both an earned adjustment in status for current experienced farm workers and a program to ensure that producers continue to have access to a workforce as current agricultural employees move on to other jobs. A key to the framework will be ensuring that it meets the needs of all of agriculture—both those employers with seasonal labor needs and those who provide year-round employment opportunities.
Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president, said in a media release that the coalition will create a market-based worker program that makes sense for everyone.
"It's important for workers, farmers and especially consumers that we have a legal, stable workforce in place. It's time to move the discussion forward and find a solution. It's time to meet agriculture's labor crisis head on."
American agriculture as we know it would not be possible without the contributions of more than 1.5 million hired workers each year. Beyond the farm gate, each of these workers supports two to three full-time jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors.
Frank Gasperini, executive vice president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, noted that his group has worked hard fro immigration reforms to ensure stability of the ag workforce.
"US domestic production of food, ornamentals, and other labor-intensive crops is dependent on immigrant workers," Gasperini said in a statement. "Our economy, security and health benefit from robust domestic agricultural production. Our workers will benefit from safe, free movement and job choices that would derive from updated federal immigration policies."
Gasperini said current H2visa programs are "badly flawed and poorly administered," and a new model is needed.
"NCAE is proud to be part of the large industry coalition represented in the AWC, and we look to our elected officials to take action in 2013 to assure the future of domestic labor-intensive agriculture in the form of immigration reforms which allow current workers to remain and provides a workable program for new arrivals."
Dairy group National Milk Producers Federation also noted that participation in the coalition will allow groups to have a say in policy changes.
"After seven years of hard but fruitless work on this issue, dairy farmers have a rare opportunity in 2013 to achieve a comprehensive solution to the immigration policy challenge. We see our participation in this coalition as the best chance to shape federal policies that will ensure farm employers' continued access to both existing and future dairy workers," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.
Ensuring that farmers, ranchers and growers have access to the workers they need to maintain their productivity and competitiveness will help support continued growth in employment across the economy and in areas far removed from farm country, AWC said.
Association members of AWC: American Farm Bureau Federation; American Nursery & Landscape Association; Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; National Council of Agricultural Employers; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Milk Producers Federation; USA Farmers; U.S. Apple Association; United Fresh Produce Association; Western Growers Association; Western United Dairymen; Coalition partners; Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.
Additional information on the AWC can be found on its website: www.agworkforcecoalition.org.