Dairy, Agriculture Groups Call for Lawmakers to Address Farm Labor Shortage

The groups are seeking improvements to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

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MADISON, Wis. — During the World Dairy Expo, the American Business Immigration Coalition Action (ABIC Action), Edge Dairy/Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, National Milk Producers Federation, the American Dairy Coalition, Indiana Dairy Producers, the Cooperative Network, AmericanHort, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and Midwest Food Products Association hosted a press event and roundtable entitled “Lower Food Prices, Keep Shelves Stocked: Common Sense Solutions to Wisconsin's Farm Labor Shortage.” 

With Senate negotiations ongoing, the event called attention to the urgency of fixing Wisconsin’s and the nation’s farm labor shortage by passing new Senate agriculture workforce solutions.

“Dairy is a unique industry with a different set of challenges than any other sector of the ag economy,” said Brody Stapel, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative Board President and a member of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. “Our cows must be milked at least twice a day, every day, and our raw product is extremely perishable. So a steady workforce is all the more important. Farms cannot function if they aren’t fully staffed to harvest crops, and feed and care for the animals. And that creates a risk to a safe, nutritious and affordable food supply. The severity of the issue cannot be overstated. Congress needs to act to provide farms with meaningful access to a visa program for year-round workers.”

Walt Moore, President and General Manager of Walmoore Holsteins, Inc., and president of the American Dairy Coalition, said: “One of the top issues that keep our members up at night is the severe labor crisis facing dairy farmers throughout the U.S. A stable, legal workforce is required to guarantee farmers maintain and increase their ability to produce an abundant, safe, and affordable food supply not only for the U.S., but also the world. 

He continued: “The American Dairy Coalition applauds the House of Representatives for passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with bipartisan support. Now it is urgent that Senators from across the U.S. do the same before this legislative session ends. So I urge the entire U.S. Senate, and my Pennsylvania Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey in particular, to do their part to fix the labor shortage this year so that grocery shelves remain stocked and food inflation reduces.”

“Senators Johnson and Baldwin,” said Randy Koller, Dairy Farmer of America Corporate board member, representing National Milk Producers Federation, “we need your support to improve the House’s bill in the Senate so we can move a Senate ag workforce measure that answers the needs of the agriculture industry. We need your help now for a stable and adequate agricultural industry.”

“I have discussed the need for changes in ag workforce laws with both Indiana senators,” said Steve Obert, executive director, Indiana Dairy Producers. “They both responded in a similar way. First, they have told me that it is the main issue raised by the agriculture community and second, they understand the need and importance. We are now at a crossroads. The dairy farm families I represent don't need awareness and sympathy—they need action. They need solutions. And I, my members, and all Indiana ag is looking to Senators Todd Young and Mike Braun to follow through and get this done this year.”

Minnesota Milk Producers Association executive director Lucas Sjostrom: “We’ve continued to ask for progress on our legal labor workforce for nearly 20 years. The sooner stable labor becomes available, the sooner our family farms can make investments for their next steps. I'm looking to my Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to do everything in their power to be helpful to the process and make sure we get this done this year.”

Dairy makes up nearly half of Wisconsin’s annual industrial agricultural revenue—and 16.4 percent of the state’s total revenue. Yet the entire dairy sector is currently excluded from the H-2A visa program, even though cows need milking 365 days a year. This results in grievous labor shortages in the Wisconsin dairy sector. 

In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with bipartisan support. This bill would grant the dairy sector access to a vital lifeline of year-round workers, enabling the industry to thrive. 

The House bill was a good start, and now in the Senate, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mike Bennet (D-CO) have taken the lead on negotiating improvements on the House's solutions and moving the process forward. 

According to a new Cato Institute report, the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act “would reduce labor costs for H‑2A farms by about $1 billion in the first year and $1.8 billion in the second, which would result in many more workers being hired, more productivity, and lower prices for consumers.” For those Wisconsin farmers who currently can access the H-2A program, this would amount to $16.9 million in savings over two years.

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