Ag Groups Put Pressure On Immigration Issue, But House Uneasy

Ag Groups Put Pressure On Immigration Issue, But House Uneasy

Groups say lack of policies for ag immigration has a trickle-down effect on the American economy and consumer

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and more than 70 other agriculture groups have joined with the Partnership for a New American Economy to launch an immigration reform campaign, even as the House of Representatives appears uneasy on plan forward.

The #IFarmImmigration campaign will include online and in-person campaigning toward new U.S. immigration policy, kicking off Wednesday with a press briefing in Washington, D.C. During the briefing, the campaign will release new research on labor.

Groups say lack of policies for ag immigration has a trickle-down effect on the American economy and consumer

Farmers and ranchers will continuing the efforts by conducting farm tours and participating in the conversation through social and traditional media, videos, and community events for members of Congress in their districts.

According to AFBF, ag employers reported more than $300 million in losses in 2010 because of worker shortages. In addition, immigrant workers make up approximately 80% of hired labor on American farms.

"Immigration reform is critical for the agricultural industry," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "This campaign will highlight how many farmers rely on an immigrant labor force and without reform, growers will begin to plant less labor intensive crops or go off shore. Simply put, either we import our labor or we import our food."

The #IFarmImmigration month is part of the #IAmImmigration campaign to engage a range of American industries in the immigration conversation. Over the next several months the campaign plans to engage Americans to push for reform.

"Across the country, crops are rotting on the vine because our farmers don't have the workers they need," said John Feinblatt, Chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy. "Our choice is clear.  We either bring in our workers or we bring in our food.  The American agriculture industry depends on getting this right."

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The Farm Bureau estimates that currently, two million people are hired each year to work on American farms, each supporting two to three other employees downstream in jobs like sales, marketing, and transportation.

Eliminating immigrant labor, they add, would increase food prices for American consumers. Citing a 2012 Texas A&M University study, AFBF said farms using immigrant labor supply more than three-fifths of the milk in the country, and without the labor, the number of dairy farms would drop by 4,532. This droop would reduce milk production by 29.5 billion pounds and raise retail milk prices by an estimated 61%.

Perfect timing
Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the timing of the new campaign is ideal, given that the House of Representatives Republicans have recently released an outline of immigration principles.

Related: Senate Immigration Bill Only First Step

According to a summary, the group suggests that any temporary worker program should allow for "realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States" and would not displace or disadvantage American workers.

But even then, a hang-up could be border security, explained Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on ABC's This Week. A divide in the House on the issue has raised concerns that it make take a considerable amount of time to agree on something.

Ryan noted the prospect of a bill within the year is "clearly in doubt," Reuters reports.

The Senate has already passed its version of immigration reform, agreed to last June.

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