With the Senate poised to vote on comprehensive immigration reform this week, USDA held a forum on the issue Friday in Kansas City, featuring Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former Kansas City mayor and current Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and representatives of the nation’s dairy industry.
“We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”
“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” said Dairy Farmers of America board chairman Randy Mooney. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. For the dairy industry – an industry where there is no such thing as a day off – there is no viable visa program to provide a legal, stable and knowledgeable workforce that ensures milk and other dairy products get into the dairy case, our lunch programs and more.” Watch Mooney’s comments in the video below or download the audio here. DFA Chair Randy Mooney
Mooney emphasized that the need for qualified workers is an issue bigger than dairy, pointing to specialty crops such as lettuce, strawberries and apples that also require labor that is not desirable to domestic workers. Similarly, a shortage of workers affects crop farmers, directly for their own farms and for farmers who buy their product.
The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.