While immigration reform continues to be a hotly debated issue in the Presidential campaigns, we at AGree want to keep a spotlight on the importance of this subject to American agriculture.

Vibrant production of healthy and high-value foods for American consumers requires the work of many hands – whether to plant, weed, pick, or process California strawberries, Georgia peaches, or Michigan cherries or to milk New Hampshire cows or shepherd lambs in Wyoming.

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Today, however, farming and livestock operations in the U.S. face a critical shortage of legally authorized and experienced workers. This negatively impacts U.S. economic competitiveness, the dynamism of local economies, and the availability of safe and healthy food. Further, according to the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, “Economists have found that every farm worker engaged in high-value, labor-intensive crop and livestock production sustains two to three off-farm jobs. As foreign producers take advantage of our labor shortage and gain market share, America will export not only our food production but also thousands of these farm-dependent jobs. Securing a reliable and skilled workforce is essential not only for the agricultural industry but for the U.S. economy as a whole.”

The fair and nondiscriminatory treatment of farmworkers must remain a key pillar of our policies and actions. Foreign-born workers help to meet critical farm and ranch labor needs, but current laws and regulations provide neither business certainty to producers nor assurances of acceptable compensation and work conditions for farmworkers. Comprehensive federal legislation to reform immigration law may be the most effective route to increasing the stability and productivity of the agricultural workforce, but we believe that a number of steps could be implemented now to improve the situation.

As AGree has shown, by engaging diverse voices and perspectives, we can find solutions. To build support for commonsense actions that will begin to address issues facing agriculture, AGree is bringing together experts who represent both employer and worker perspectives. On Sept. 19, during a panel discussion hosted in Washington, D.C., they will share their visions on what the future could look like for foreign-born labor in U.S. agriculture. We will consider questions such as:

  • What do current U.S. farm labor population trends and demographics show?
  • What are the economic drivers that could spur regulatory change?
  • What can be done about enforcement to ensure a level playing field for producers and fair treatment for workers?
  • What are the trade implications?
  • What are the generational shifts happening in the ownership of agriculture operations and how does the foreign born workforce fit into this transition?

We recognize that there are many challenges ahead for the next President. AGree has developed principles that can help to guide whoever is elected on Nov. 8. These principles draw upon a great deal of work and thinking by many individuals and organizations and articulate what must be achieved if American agriculture is to continue to be viable into the future, calling for our policies and programs to:

  • Build a legal, more stable workforce in agriculture;
  • Develop a practical and economically viable guest worker program that allows employers to hire legal foreign workers and protects foreign and U.S. farm workers;
  • Ensure quality of life, good working conditions, and opportunities for food and agriculture workers; and
  • Provide more opportunities for farm workers to develop skills and advance their careers within the food and agriculture sector.

AGree’s bipartisan group of Co-Chairs includes former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, former U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretaries Jim Moseley and Kathleen Merrigan, and former U.S. Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator Emmy Simmons. 


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.