If nothing gets done to solve immigration issues this year, and, with it, assure a supply of domestic seasonal workers for agriculture, farmers will have to find ways to adjust.
Dawn Drake, manager of the Michigan Processing Apple Growers, said that Michigan Farm Bureau and its affiliate, the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association (of which the Processing Apple Growers are a division), have formed a committee to “research a possible labor program in 2015.”
In the past, MACMA has had programs to help growers procure labor. The goal would be to create a program to obtain seasonal workers for Michigan growers.
By far, the best scenario for farm labor reform both for consumers and farmers is one that includes, along with immigration enforcement, a redesigned guest-worker program and the opportunity for skilled laborers currently working in agriculture to earn an adjustment of their status.
If that doesn’t happen, farmers will have to adjust. “Regarding the labor program, we are in very early discussion stages of putting together something that would work for growers beginning in 2015,” Drake said. “As we move forward with something over the next few months, I would be happy to keep you posted.”
Labor is a looming problem, she said, as most regions look like they have good crop potential for 2014. Last fall, growers had to leave some apples in their orchards, and the Michigan crop size is getting larger year by year.
Congressman Fred Upton, who represents southwest Michigan’s fruit belt, told growers at the Michigan Processing Apple Growers annual meeting in March that he was “hopeful.”
“We should be able to get a bipartisan bill through,” he said. While critics say Congress is a place where nothing can get done, the last few months have shown encouraging signs of bipartisan effort.
“It shows we can work together,” he said, citing passage of the Farm Bill and agreement on a national budget.
“We’re not going to send 11 million undocumented people back home,” he said of immigration reform. “They need to be able to stay here, raise their families, pay their taxes. We can’t be breaking up families and deporting children. We’re a better nation than that.”
The Senate bill won’t pass, he said, but the House is working on bills that he thinks can gain support of 140 Republicans and 100 Democrats, and pass. He urged growers to keep up the pressure.
“I’m pushing our leadership,” he said. “We’re going to need you to try to get this bill moving. We need you to get behind us. I’m on your side, I really am.”
Upton is popular in his district and has a reputation of responding to fruit and vegetable growers’ concerns.