Milk is one of the most common items on any American consumer’s grocery list. However, before it ever reaches your local grocery store shelf, the safe and abundant production of milk has involved many steps — including top-quality animal care, modern milking procedures, state-of-the-art logistics and health-conscious food processing, etc.
Each step provides much-needed jobs to both rural and urban communities and pour billions of dollars into our economy. A great deal hinges on the viability of the U.S. dairy industry, not the least of which is providing safe, nutritional food products to families throughout the world, and employing hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans.
However, farmers and dairy-related businesses are in a panic over the lack of workers regularly showing up to milk the cows. So, what happens to rural communities — or more significantly — the U.S. economy when we can’t find employees to milk the cows?
While the dairy, livestock and agriculture industries are in a crisis mode — due to the lack of an available labor force to take care of the nation’s animals and grow food — legislators on Capitol Hill appear not interested in moving immigration reform policy anytime soon. The House of Representative’s schedule appears to be: healthcare, taxes, infrastructure and then, possibly, immigration.
The only problem with this, is that farmers can’t wait any longer for help to milk their cows. They have been waiting 20 years for a legal guest worker program, which fills the vacancies that domestic labor doesn’t want — even though farmers across the United States have increased their starting pay for milking cows to $13.00 to $15.00 an hour plus benefit packages.
Currently half of all dairy farm workers are immigrants. These individuals perform the day in, day out — basic activities that go along with milking and humanely caring for U.S dairy cows. These jobs are dirty, repetitive, and employees must show up regardless of rain, snow, sleet or heat. The cows, after all, don’t take a day off and require care 365 days of the year. Wages for these positions continue to increase in hopes of attracting domestic workers; but despite rising wages and benefit packages, these jobs continue to go unfilled.
With some of the most-important jobs on our dairy operations left unfilled, producers are left with a major dilemma — downsize and produce less milk or import workers. When milk production is reduced, the economies of the entire dairy infrastructure are negatively impacted. Less transportation is needed, cheese manufactures and feed company employees are laid off; veterinarians, dairy supply and equipment manufacturing and others continue the downward spiral. Furthermore, the loss of production increases the price of milk and dairy products on the grocery store shelves.
The 30,000 dairy producers, allied industry businesses and industry associations represented by the American Dairy Coalition feel there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ immigration policy that will provide a universal answer to all facets of the dairy industry. We desperately need immigration reform bills to begin moving through the House and Senate in order to provide the tools to assist farmers in locating the labor they need to maintain and grow their dairy operations.
The American Dairy Coalition applauds Rep. Sean DuffySean Duffy'Fox & Friends Weekend' hosts suggest new variant meant to distract from Biden's struggles Trump pushing ex-Rep. Duffy to run for Wisconsin governor Fox News signs book deal with HarperCollins MORE (R-Wis.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus, for standing up for American dairy farmers with his introduction of the Defending the Agricultural Industry’s Requirements Year-round Act of 2017 or the DAIRY Act. This bill will allow dairy producers to utilize the H2-A visa program. Previously, the dairy industry was excluded from the program due to its 365-day-a-year need for labor. The bill will allow laborers to be admitted for periods of 18 months, while being judiciously vetted and mandated to follow the stringent requirements of the H2-A Visa Program; otherwise, they will be expeditiously removed and deported back to their home country.
The American Dairy Coalition represents the united voice of the dairy industry. Our coalition is the only national organization solely focused on advocating to advance the growth and success of progressive dairy farmers. We support the efforts of Rep. Duffy and remain dedicated to establishing bi-partisan support to move his bill across the finish line.
Laurie Fischer is CEO for the American Dairy Coalition.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.