Immigration and the Dairy Industry

As dairy operations increase animal numbers, they have also increased dependence on a larger labor pool. That labor pool has become less dominated by family members, and more dependent on foreign born labor (FBL) There undoubtedly would be benefits, however, there is significant risk for the dairy industry in any immigration legislation.

The most recent significant immigration legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. A  In 2013, the full U.S. Senate passed the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” a bipartisan, comprehensive reform bill (S 744).  This bill  was never  given a vote in the House even though it was widely viewed as having sufficient support to pass.  The agricultural portion of S 744 was negotiated between agricultural organizations and farm labor representatives to address the needs of agriculture.

One more recent  proposal was the 2018 “AG and Legal Workforce Act,” HR 6417.  This bill would have eliminated the H-2A visa and created an H-2C visa encompassing not only agricultural jobs, but also meat processing and food manufacturing.  The bill would have authorized employers to pay below the FLSA minimum wage by imposing deductions and charges on workers.  These H-2C workers would not be covered by the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act of 1983 which is a primary farmworker protection law.  The proposal would have made the H-2C a 36-month visa with no path to permanent residency or citizenship.

To move this discussion along, ISU Extension Dairy Specialist Fred M. Hall has scheduled a Dairy Discussions program for Tuesday, December 4 at the Sioux County Extension Office in Orange City.  The day will begin with registration at 9 am and conclude by 2 pm. There is no fee for registration, but pre-registration is required by calling the Sioux County Extension office at 712.737.4230. Deadline for registration is 12 noon on Friday, November 30.

Bob Naerebout, with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association will discuss responsible immigration reform. Naerebout will share the Idaho Dairymen’s Association’s (IDA) policy position on immigration reform containing the following propositions:

  • It must provide an avenue for legal status for current workforce and their immediate family members.
  • It must provide a fluid visa program that allows the dairy industry to secure additional labor as needed.
  • The requirement of determining legal status of employees is the responsibility of the US government, not employers.

In this presentation, Naerebout will provide an overview of the dairy industry with an emphasis on FBL. What does that mean to a Republican dominated state that is highly dependent on agriculture, which in turn is dependent on FBL? Naerebout will share what the Idaho Dairymen’s Association has accomplished from a national view, and conclude the presentation by examining what do we, as an industry and society, do to move successful immigration legislation forward.  That discussion will include understanding immigration reform from an economic perspective as well as the humanitarian perspective.

Additionally, three other speakers will  present. Dr. Hugo Ramirez, ISU Extension Dairy Specialist will discuss how consistency in teaching labor benefits them, the cattle and the dairyman. Ron Mortensen from Dairy Gross Margins will discuss risk management tools including the new Dairy Revenue Protection program and Northwest Iowa ISU Extension Dairy Specialist Fred M. Hall will discuss current trends in the milk market and offer some useful benchmarks for dairymen as they evaluate their enterprise.

For more information contact Hall at 712.737.4230.




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