Labor. To say that it is an “issue” growers have faced for years is a tremendous understatement. In fact, as Peter Call of MY-T Acres in New York said in this month’s cover story (see page 8), labor is his No. 1 issue. Without some form of workable immigration program, he said his operation “will be limited moving forward.” For some growers, the situation is far more serious than “limiting.”
Just last month, we asked our audience about their biggest concerns in 2013. Not coming as any surprise, about 51% said government regulations and 16% said labor. (See page 6 for additional poll results.)
A topic that has been repeatedly addressed at United Fresh’s Washington Public Policy Conference, labor has been a particularly hot-button issue for the past couple of years. In 2012, conference attendees made feverish calls to action on the subject to their members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
One conference attendee who visited representatives on the Hill, Charles Wingard of Walter P. Rawl and Sons, Inc. in Pelion, SC, said immigration reform is the most critical issue facing growers today. “We made a clear point that there is a distinct difference between amnesty and adjustment of status,” he said of his meetings with those in Washington, DC. “It came up because we were talking about a guest worker program, but we still have 11 million undocumented workers in this country. We have to do something about it.”
Strength In Numbers
Well, something is being done about it. Last month the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) was formed. This group, made up of numerous organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, American Nursery & Landscape Association, National Council of Agricultural Employers, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, U.S. Apple Association, and several others, is proposing reform that would include an ag worker program that would provide access to a legal workforce and “an adjustment for current experienced unauthorized agricultural workers.”
Speaking with a unified voice, these organizations that represent a historically broad cross-section of agricultural employers want what growers have wanted for years: to have legislation passed that will provide a stable and skilled workforce.
According to the AWC, the group will work to ensure that ag labor needs are addressed in any immigration reform package considered by the 113th Congress. The hope of the coalition is that Congress and the president will take up the torch on immigration reform legislation in the very near future.
Your Call To Action
What can you do? First of all, visit the coalition’s website, www.agworkforcecoalition.org and find out the specifics on this group’s Proposal For Reform. After reading the proposal, if you have questions or want to know how you can help, fill out the “Contact Us” form so you can gather more information and become involved.
Visit the website’s “Why Action Is Needed” page for additional reasons a solution is long past due. You’ll read statistics from a survey by the California Farm Bureau that indicated 71% of tree fruit growers didn’t have enough labor last year, and in 2008, Texas A&M reported that 77% of vegetable farmers said they were scaling back operations.
As going backward is not an option, it is time to propel the labor effort forward. With the current firepower behind the movement, maybe this time it will happen.