Utah Farm Bureau and Business Leaders Call on Congress to fix Farm Labor Shortage, Keep Shelves Stocked, and Lower Food Prices
WEST JORDAN, Utah – This Salt Lake Chamber, American Business Immigration Coalition and Utah Farm Bureau Federation recently eld a press event entitled “Utah’s Labor Shortage, Agriculture, and Common-Sense Solutions.” There, Utah business and farm leaders called on the U.S. Senate to fix Utah’s and the nation’s extreme farm labor shortages by passing new Senate agriculture workforce solutions.
“Reform to our immigration and guest worker program is long overdue. Farmers and their employees need a system that provides long-term stability,” said Ron Gibson, President of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. “The last attempts at farm labor reform were more than 30 years ago. We may only get one chance to correct things, so we need to get it right. The current legislation has several critical shortcomings that need to be addressed.”
Dairy farmer and Utah State Representative Mike Kohler (R - Utah House District 54) starkly laid out the problem: “Dairy farming is a year-round process. Animal care is not a simple task. People come to a farm requiring much training, so it’s important to keep them.” He went on to say that many of his and his fellow farmers’ workers “have been with us for years and become part of the family. We’ve tried to find local ways to do this.
We even passed some local legislation that should’ve gotten a waiver from the feds—but that didn’t happen.” At its root, he said, “this is a federal issue. I would encourage both Utah Senators Romney and Lee to get involved in this. They have an opportunity to solve this. We can make this happen.”
President Ron Gibson echoed the depth of the need.
“One-hundred and seventy-five years ago, the Mormon pioneers came here to the Utah Valley with one thing on their mind, and that was ‘What are we going to eat this winter?’”Gibson said. “Today we have that same challenge… We’ve taken for granted in American society that we can go to the grocery store at any time and pick up any kind of food we need. But in March of 2020, that changed, and when we went to the grocery store here in Utah, we found empty shelves.”
He continued: “As a farmer who has been here on this farm my whole life, I’m facing labor shortages that are just unreal. I have 1,500 cows and we’re [also] a fairly large vegetable grower. It has been so difficult to find employees and it’s changing the way we do business. We’re not able to provide the food and the things that are needed for the people who live here in Utah and across the country.”
“We must ensure the costs to use the guestworker program do not impede a farm’s ability to remain viable, which includes reform to the adverse effect wage rate,” Gibson added.
Given the depth of need, speakers urged lawmakers in D.C. to get behind legislation being led by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) to create a long-term legal status for immigrant farmworkers.
“I want to applaud Senators Crapo and Bennet of Colorado for sitting down at the negotiating table to come up with real solutions,” said American Business Immigration Coalition Co-Chair, Utah native, former Republican Arizona State Senator and ZenniHome LLC founder Bob Worsley. “We are eagerly waiting for what they come up with, but we are running out of time.”
He added: “I’m looking to my own Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to give this issue the attention it needs and to let Senators Crapo and Bennet know that they are eager to work with them on passing new agriculture workforce solutions.”
“Often politics and policy-making is full of compromise, weighing wins and losses among various constituencies,” said Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller. “But when it comes to allowing more agricultural workers, this is one of those rare issues that is a win for the farmers and ranchers who need employees, a win for individuals who need work and a win for people who like to eat.”
The roundtable underscored just how long countless immigrants have labored on America’s farms without any permanent legal status or stability. “I am here both as a representative for ABIC and as a DACA recipient and child of former farmworkers,” said Enrique Sanchez, ABIC Intermountain State Director. “Due to his status, my father was unable to join my mother during my birth in Mexico.” But thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he said, he’d been allowed to legally attend school and graduate from college in the U.S.
“That’s what brings me here today,” he continued. “The agricultural sector is facing devastating labor shortages. If this is not addressed, Americans will continue to see empty grocery shelves and higher prices.” That is why, he said, American farmers “need access to a safe, legal and reliable workforce through new Senate legislation being negotiated by Senators Crapo and Bennet.”
By addressing workforce shortages facing farm employers and stabilizing the H-2A visa application process, Congress can address inflation, lower food prices, ensure grocery store shelves remain stocked and enhance our national food security by protectingdomestic agriculture production. Reform to our immigration and guest worker program is long overdue. Farmers and their employees need a system that provides long-term stability. It is time we find a solution that works for all.
In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with bipartisan support. That was a good start, but now in the Senate, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mike Bennet (D-CO) have taken the lead on negotiating much-needed improvements on the House's solutions and moving the process forward. Passing new Senate legislation is critical to solving labor shortages facing Utah’s agriculture sector and sustaining the state’s economy as a whole.
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