I have worked in agriculture for over 30 years. At the age of 15, I worked loading produce during the harvest season at the Pompano farmers market in South Florida. I went on to veterinary school and after graduation, I worked as a large animal veterinarian in north central Florida for 30 years.
For the last six and a half years, I have served on the House Agriculture Committee, proudly representing Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. With over three decades of experience in and around agriculture, I can confidently say that I understand the needs of American producers and those of the farmworker.
Currently, agriculture faces an uncertain future because our nation’s farmers cannot find enough workers to tend to livestock or harvest crops. Labor scarcity in agriculture is not a new problem. Producers have been talking about this issue for decades, and likewise, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have failed for decades to come up with a commonsense reform to meet the needs of the producer while protecting the migrant workforce.
Dairy is unique
Producers who cannot find domestic labor use the H-2A program or use the I-9 form to find temporary foreign labor. The H-2A program is a vital tool for producers. However, the program is flawed in that it only allows for temporary workers up to 10 months legally in the country. Industries like dairy, plant nurseries, and others have full-time, year-round labor demands that aren’t fulfilled by these programs. Another flaw is it has no enforcement to keep workers in the agriculture sector. So once in the country, the H-2A worker can go work in another industry, say construction for example, that often pays more than agriculture work.
The I-9 form that many producers rely on is plagued with many problems. One is that it does not confirm the legitimacy of a worker’s proper identification or Social Security number. E-Verify would help alleviate this uncertainty for employers. However, the E-Verify program is not mandatory and therefore not widely used.
Our dairy farmers need help
Like most other agricultural operations across the country, dairy producers are unable to find enough people to fill the jobs available domestically. However, because dairy farms operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, there is not a dedicated work visa program by which they are able to bring in workers to fulfill their needs.
That’s why I am crafting a bill to ensure these producers have access to a reliable, predictable, and steady workforce. Our proposal would maintain H-2A, with improvements to the program, and create a complementary program for year-round farms to obtain foreign labor.
Broadly, the proposal addresses three main areas.
First, it would create a new agricultural guest worker program at the Department of Agriculture that meets the needs of our producers.
Secondly, the legislation would move agriculture workers from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture.
Third, it would create a prescreened, guest worker pool administered by USDA to avoid unnecessary delays for producers.
The proposal would also ensure seasonal and year-round producers have access to labor that is prescreened. The program will create a steady and reliable workforce dedicated only to the agriculture industry for up to five years of permission at a time. Lastly, the program would provide a legal way for existing undocumented agricultural workers who are already present in the United States, along with their spouses and children, to enter this agricultural guest worker program, thus creating security for these individuals. Once the agricultural guest worker program has been fully implemented, our proposal would make E-Verify mandatory across the country to ensure the integrity of the program.
We must face reality
We as a nation will either import our food or we will import our labor. Without a reliable, predictable, and steady agriculture workforce, our food will not get to market, household food costs will increase, and our producers can’t compete globally. Our farmers and ranchers produce the highest quality food in the world. We are fortunate to live with such abundance, but we need individuals to work the fields and ranches to make this possible. It is imperative that we provide producers with the workforce they need to feed America and the world.
Click on the link to read Congressman Yoho's full guest worker proposal.
Ted Yoho is the United States Representative for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District and member of the House Agriculture Committee.