HURON, SD — The agriculture industry has been facing labor shortages for some time, and industry leaders are hoping the U.S. Senate can help find a solution to those issues.
That was the message during a Friday morning roundtable at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron, where representatives from various organizations spoke about the need for farm labor reform. for immigrant workers to maintain the vitality of the American agricultural sector.
“The agricultural labor shortage is not a new problem, but it is one that has gained in urgency,” said James O’Neill, director of outreach for the American Business Immigration Coalition Action. , which hosted the event.
The American Business Immigration Coalition Action (ABIC Action) is a group of more than 1,200 diverse businesses and trade associations that aims to provide a strong and effective voice in pursuit of sound immigration reforms to grow the economy and strengthen families, according to the group’s website.
The group is concerned about labor shortages affecting all facets of agriculture, with employers in South Dakota and across the country finding it extremely difficult to fill vacancies entirely with American employees. This, in turn, leads to higher production costs which are passed on to the consumer at the grocery store.
Immigrants make up 7% of all agricultural, fishing and forestry workers in South Dakota, according to the American Immigration Council, and their work is strongly tied to food prices. Nationwide, research from Texas A&M International University indicates that ensuring farmers have a stable, safe, reliable and legal workforce is key to addressing supply challenges food, fight inflation and bring down food prices.
The United States Department of Agriculture also said that next year the United States will import more agricultural products than it exports for the very first time.
“These are also national security issues,” said Enrique Sanchez, intermountain state director for ABIC Action. “Food security is national security, and a nation that cannot feed itself is not a secure nation.”
Those present at the round table hope that work will continue on the
which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021. This bill allows undocumented aliens—non-U.S. nationals—who work in agriculture to receive Certified Farmworker status and, eventually, the lawful permanent resident status. It also reforms the H-2A nonimmigrant (temporary) farm worker program and increases the number of people who can receive employment-based green cards by 40,000 a year.
Proponents of the legislation say it was a good start, but more needs to be done. Negotiations on improvements to the bill have been initiated by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Mike Bennet, D-Colorado, and the producers hope to come up with solutions to the current issues.
“Labour shortages have been one of the biggest factors limiting the growth of American agriculture, and it’s time we found a solution that works for everyone,” said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau Board of Directors and Vice President of the American Federation of Farm Bureaus. “We are delighted to hear that conversations have resumed in the Senate in Washington, D.C. and hope that this will result in a bill that will provide a helpful solution both in the short and long term.”
VanderWal said his organization has concerns and would like some shortcomings corrected.
“The key reforms we would still like to see in this bill guarantee a fair and competitive rate of pay, set limits on the use of federal courts to resolve workplace grievances, and ensure that the entire agriculture, including year-round workers, have access to H-2A Visas,” VanderWal said.
grocery bills are rising at the fastest rate in more than 40 years, and this year’s July 4 barbecues cost 17% more than last year and 27% more than before the pandemic. Prices for ground beef are up 36% from last summer, chicken breasts 33%, pork and beans 33%, pork chops 31%, lemonade 22% and 19% potato salad.
South Dakota’s dairy industry is no stranger to labor shortages, said Marv Post, chairman of the board of South Dakota Dairy Producers, and industry leaders have been pushing for reform work for years.
“We are seeing rapid growth in milk production, but we need manpower. The dairy industry is a labor-intensive business and we need workers for quality products on the farm,” Post said. “If we can have workers here who can turn this dairy product into a finished product, it not only provides economic opportunity across the state of South Dakota and nationally, but also gives us food security and the food on those shelves, which we know have been so hurt. a lot during the pandemic.
Having a legal and reliable immigrant workforce is a need not just in America, but around the world, said Edge Dairy Cooperative board member Michael Crinion. Originally from Ireland who moved to South Dakota 18 years ago to work in the dairy industry, Crinion said the need for immigrant labor in agriculture is a modern reality.
“Labour shortages in agricultural countries reached crisis levels a long time ago, and they are only getting worse. In the dairy industry, it is nearly impossible to fill all available positions with US citizens. This is the simple and disturbing truth of the matter,” Crinion said. “Demographics and workforce patterns are changing, and the nature of jobs is demanding. But it’s not just an American phenomenon. Immigrant labor is also used in the dairy industry in Ireland, New Zealand and elsewhere.
He also urged the Senate to continue the work begun in the House in 2021.
“This is an essential act of Congress to ensure we have access to a visa program for new workers while protecting our current workers. The House recognized this when it passed the (Farm Labor Force Modernization Act) last spring. Now we need the Senate to come up with the solution,” Crinion said.
Alla Kureninova, operations manager of the Natural Beauty greenhouse in Sioux Falls, is originally from Ukraine and moved to South Dakota 10 years ago as a migrant worker. Now living in Salem with her husband and son, she says she knows the impact a good immigrant worker policy can have on the worker, the employer and the general public.
“You would wonder why someone with a degree would want to come to the United States and work in a greenhouse seasonally, and the answer is the same as for many migrant workers,” Kureninova said. “And that’s to come to the United States and have the opportunity to earn some extra money to support my family back in Ukraine, to learn the language and experience the culture and the security that the United States have to offer.”
Sensible rules for immigrant workers benefit everyone involved, she said.
“That’s what H-2A visa programs are for. They change lives, providing legal ways to enter the United States and earn money to support families back home or support your own passions and dreams. And in turn, migrant workers like me are always very happy to dedicate years to this company and this industry, because it has allowed me to grow as a professional while supporting my family back home and here,” Kureninova said.
She also urged the Senate to continue working to address issues that have driven up food supplies and costs and threaten national food security, affecting her family members still in Ukraine.
“Let’s not wait to completely lose this control, as my home country of Ukraine has already done. Let’s not wait and lose control over the quality of life of our own families, the sustainability of our business, and for me, as a mom, the most important thing is access to quality food produced here in the United States,” Koureninova said. . “So we are asking today for help in addressing the challenges and labor shortages.”
Greg Feenstra, vice president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, said the labor shortage is real and needs a solution.
“Like everyone here, the pork industry is suffering from a labor shortage. We can automate some things, but not everything can be automated. We still need people to do the job. It’s a critical part of our industry that we find a workforce,” Feenstra said. “I don’t know if there is a perfect solution to the problem, but I know we need to work with our legislators and our other product groups to find a solution that can propel us forward and take care of everything.”
O’Neill said the upcoming negotiations in the Senate are important and will hopefully lead to solutions quickly.
“This is a national security bill that allows us to ensure that America’s food production stays, as much as possible, in the United States. And it’s also legislation that will help fight inflation,” O’Neill said. “We need solutions as soon as possible. We can’t wait another year, and we’d like to see the Senate act this year to address the agricultural labor shortage to keep shelves stocked and food prices lower.