United States Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week is travelling for his third “Back to Our Roots” RV tour. These tours have given Secretary Perdue the chance to visit states and hear, first-hand, about issues impacting agriculture.
One issue that has been talked about, is immigration and immigration reform.
The debate over immigration reform has been watched closely by the agriculture industry. Immigrant labor plays such a vital role in many producer’s operations. The debate has taken many forms: a border wall, increased screenings, “dreamers” legislation and the list goes on.
Fruit and vegetable producers have felt the pinch more than others. With the increase in demand for farm to table produce, producers are struggling to keep up the supply. It is not always a matter of being able to have the resources available to grow the produce. It becomes a matter of having the workforce to handle a large harvest in a short timeframe. Therefore, many producers have turned to immigrant labor.
Secretary Perdue spoke in Michigan on Monday about the lack of congressional action and how it could affect agriculture producers. Perdue says without immigration reform, farm labor shortages will not be able to be filled by immigrant labor.
If you are a producer who relies on immigrant labor, do not despair. The USDA is working on other means to help. Secretary Perdue says USDA is working with other federal agencies to find a solution that can help farmers. These partnering agencies include the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, and State. The solutions will help regulatory issues with the H2A program, that were causing a lot of paperwork and red tape for producers.
However, experts say these fixes will do more to help those needing seasonal immigrant labor. The plan does not go far enough for those who need a year-round workforce.
Secretary Perdue’s tour continues this week with stops in Ohio and Kentucky.