Immigration reform has become a four-letter word, especially in conservative circles. Election year rhetoric, both on the campaign trail and political news channels, has only compounded the problem. However, no amount of political posturing can remedy this national security matter — America’s food security depends on a reliable supply of workers on our farms and in our processing plants. This growing crisis needs a solution.
Worker challenges loom large throughout all of agriculture. That’s because declining fertility rates and aging populations leave many rural areas with a shortage of workers. Retirements in the baby boomer generation only compound the labor woes.
While all of agriculture has been impacted, ground zero definitely would be the dairy and meat sectors. That’s because seasonal agricultural operations throughout the vegetable and fruit sector have legal access to H2-A visa workers. However, there isn’t a “dairy” or “beef” season when compared to the likes of strawberries or cucumbers. Hence, dairy and livestock remain on the sidelines because they employ staff who must work throughout the year. With limited native-born options, the only logical answer is immigrants. And the legal pathways remain limited.
While immigration reform may be vilified among some politicians and their supporters, food security generally is not. At a recent town hall meeting, ranking House Committee member G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) shared that he wants food security listed everywhere in future verbiage on the worker topic, and the word “immigration” should be struck from future legislation.
We agree with Thompson. That’s because many of Thompson’s conservative colleagues support legal immigration and fortifying America’s borders. However, those same conservatives know that America’s food independence has been a major factor in this country’s liberty and ability to lift up the cause of freedom across the globe for the past 246 years.
Aside from the worker shortage, some liberal-leaning politicians lay claim that agriculture’s jobs underpay. That’s simply not true. In the past three years, pay rates in the meat and dairy industries have outpaced wage growth when compared to all hourly workers, reported the American Immigration Council.
If Americans really want to rein in inflation, an ample supply of workers is a major part of the solution. That’s the reality. It’s also the reason wages in dairy and meat sectors have climbed nearly 34% in the past three years.