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immigrant worker on a dairy farm Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter

Ag labor shortage fix offered for dairy industry

New bill expands H-2A program to allow usage by dairy farmers.

A new federal bill has been introduced by Reps. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.) and John Joyce (R., Pa.) to expand the current H-2A visa program to allow for its use by dairy farmers.

The bill will amend the Immigration & Nationality Act, making it suitable for the year-round labor needs of the dairy industry by allowing for an initial three-year visa with an option to extend for another three years. Under current law, dairy workers are not allowed to utilize H-2A visas because the dairy industry is not considered seasonal. The new legislation will change this and allow workers from outside the U.S. to utilize H-2A to access agricultural jobs on dairy farms.

“It is clear that one of the reasons our dairy farmers in Pennsylvania’s 13th district are struggling is because they are lacking the manpower that they need to produce their goods and get them to market,” Joyce said. “Milk production in our country relies heavily on our migrant workers, and for far too long, Congress has harmed the dairy industry by failing to fix our broken immigration system. This small change to the H-2A visa classification will come as welcome news to our dairy farmers and will give them flexibility that they need to be more efficient and profitable.”

Brindisi said, “I’ve heard from dairy farmers across upstate New York that they need more skilled, qualified workers to help run their operations and get products on shelves. Dairy farmers are a critical part of upstate New York’s economy, and our broken immigration system hurts their ability to grow and hire. This commonsense fix will help dairy farmers have the resources and workforce they need to succeed.”

Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, said of the legislation, “It is critical that Congress enact legislation to address the unique workforce needs of dairy producers. Without the help of foreign labor, many American dairy operations would face the threat of closure.”

Walt Moore, American Dairy Coalition (ADC) president, also voiced support for the bill. As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, he said for the past 110 years, his family has poured heart and soul into the dairy farm.

“Our farm, along with many other dairy farms throughout our great country, have come to rely on migrant workers to milk, feed and care for our dairy cows on our farms,” Moore said. “We need to have a steady, highly skilled, reliable work force to continue to properly care for our cows and to continue to produce one of the safest, healthiest foods in the world.”

Moore applauded Joyce and Brindisi “for understanding the needs of the American dairy farmer and introducing a bill that will amend the current H-2A program to allow dairy famers throughout the country to access year-round migrant workers.” He urged fellow dairy farmers to reach out to their representatives and urge support of the bill.

“As a central New York dairy producer, I am both  excited and proud of Congressmen Brindisi and Joyce for tackling this difficult labor problem in a bipartisan fashion for our nation's dairy farmers,” said Michael McMahon, owner and operator of E-Z Acres in Homer, N.Y. “This proposed legislation provides the necessary first step to solving this problem."

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