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Ranchers Need H-2A Reform From Farm Workforce Modernization Act

Time is running out for Congress to act and help farmers access the critical labor they need. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act awaits Senate introduction, and if passed by the end of this Congress would bring relief to agriculture needed for years.

Janille Baker is the Controller for Baker Ranch, a fourth-generation ranching operation in Nevada and Utah. She says labor is the top issue for ranchers in her area. “If you talk to almost anybody I know in agriculture right now labor is their number one issue. I grew up on a dairy and dairy doesn’t qualify for H-2A. My dad is 72, and if he has labor issues, he’s the one out there milking. We’re in a little better position with cattle and farming because we do qualify for H-2A. I don’t bring over H-2A workers for the cattle operation, I’ve got cowboys that do that. But I do bring over workers for the harvest in the summers.”

She says the H-2A program is burdensome, but the only option they have available to get foreign workers on the ranch.

“We tried H-2A program years ago and found it pretty intense. But in 2015, we had a couple of longtime employees, they’re older and they wanted to retire and go back home. So, they did, and they were the main people that did the irrigating. It’s really hard to find American workers that will irrigate. We have a lot of the pivot irrigation, but there are pieces of property on the different farms that they don’t have those, it’s more of the wheel line/sled irrigation, and that’s labor intensive. So, in 2018 we started again, we brought over four workers to start with. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it makes the difference in whether or not we can actually harvest all of those fields.”

Without getting the legislation to the finish line, Baker says consumers will feel the impact through more inflation and food security.

“One of the impacts is going to be I think, is the food security. Failing to address this issue threatens our food security with the potential to drive food production overseas. I was really surprised to learn that the USDA predicts the next year the U.S. will be a net importer of agricultural goods. I think COVID should have taught us more than anything we don’t want to be depending on other nations for especially food, we need to protect our domestic food production, support America’s farmers, So, reforming the H-2A guestworker program and ensuring agricultural producers have the workers they need it’s crucial to combating this.”

She says passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act now will help farmers and ranchers access the labor they need.

“I would really like them to set politics aside, I believe there’s a solution. I believe they could pass this. I believe it’s bipartisan support. Commonsense workforce reform that better meets the needs of U.S. agriculture. The house already passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act last year with bipartisan support and that bill is a great start that would go a long way toward making sure farmers have the workers they need. Senators Mike Crapo, who is a Republican from Idaho and Michael Bennett who is a Democrat from Colorado, are working on the Senate version, and they need to move to file their bill before the end of the current Congress. If they don’t get that done, I’m afraid our next chance will be many years down the road.”

Baker encourages farmers and ranchers across the nation to contact their senators and urge them to support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

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