By Kevin Rogers
Farmers and ranchers need a reliable workforce to produce food for America. And they accept that most of the workers they need come from other nations. It has been a long time coming, but U.S. lawmakers are increasingly recognizing this as well. It is important that this understanding extend to the fact that agriculture cannot access a sustainable labor supply without reform of the current visa system for non-native workers.
Because the political dynamics have changed, it seems likely that immigration reform can be debated in the future in an atmosphere of lowered emotional rhetoric. This should allow for more thoughtful consideration of the positive economic benefits of ag labor reform, which are considerable. Chief among them is that rural areas thrive with a reliable workforce for agriculture.
Securing a labor supply to sustain agricultural production into the future, hand-in-hand with border security and interior enforcement, has been a key focus for Farm Bureau.
One reason I am optimistic about the recent change in tone is that a lot of rhetoric over the past few years focused on certain classes of people, which was just not right. That too, is changing. A few years ago when Arizona was proposing harsh anti-immigrant legislation, I often reminded neighbors, “These are our employees we are talking about.”
Following passage of some of these measures in Arizona, we saw an exodus of people, mostly families. Perhaps the employee was legally in this country, but he or she was protecting other family members. Most of these employees were long tenured and much-valued. They disappeared to face an uncertain future. Leaving did not solve any problems; it just displaced them to the detriment of their family, the employer and the community.
One Farm Bureau member had a long-time manager approach him with the news that he had been living under a false name for years. He was a responsible and key employee, much-involved in the local community. He and his family simply disappeared.
Unfortunately, these are neither isolated nor unique circumstances. To stabilize and sustain agriculture’s workforce, we must find labor solutions for those that are already here in the U.S. and those who need to come here to work.
Farm Bureau continues to work to advance realistic labor and immigration reforms supported by united agricultural groups and interests. Put simply, we need reform that works for all of agriculture. And we need it now!
As negotiations proceed with Congress and interest groups, my hope is that our goals will be compatible, allowing for a resolution that works for our industry without reverting back to a non-productive tone.
Kevin Rogers, a fourth-generation family farmer from the Phoenix area, is president of Arizona Farm Bureau. He farms with his dad, brother and wife. Kevin’s family grows cotton, alfalfa, wheat and corn silage.