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Can D.C. Fix Ag Labor?

The struggle is real with the current U.S. labor shortage, and agriculture is certainly not excluded. The sector is feeling the squeeze, and legislators are pushing to reform the guest worker program to help.

The issue at hand: the current H-2A guest worker program is structured for seasonal, not year-round, help.

A proponent’s point: “Employers in Iowa — animal agriculture, agricultural processing — is not a seasonal business, and that’s what the H-2A program is for is seasonal workers,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said. “So I hear from farmers and business(es) who just can’t find people to work.”

Today there are an estimated 2.5M farmworkers, about half of them undocumented. In March, the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which provides mass amnesty without addressing the core labor issues. Republicans aren’t fond of the bill — and won’t approve it until Democrats secure the border.

Senator Grassley also argued the bill fails to address many of the shortfalls of H-2A. “This will involve expanding the program to cover year-round agricultural industries such as pork, dairy, and agricultural processing. It should also involve streamlining the program, reducing red tape and addressing the high cost of using the program.”

Where does it go from here? More debate on how to structure a bill that would address both worker legalization issues and solve the agricultural labor shortage.