On January 15, the largest U.S. agriculture group, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF),announced that it would back new immigration reform plansthat would put undocumented workers who are already in the country on a path to U.S. citizenship. The 6 million member groupis joined by a dozen landscape industry and agriculture groups who are defending immigration reform.
According to the AFBF website, a 2012 survey found that 80 percent of raisin and berry growers, and 71 percent of tree fruit growers have not been able to find an adequate number of workers to pick crops. Bob Stallman, the organization’s president, is calling on Congress to pass a five-year bill in 2013 that would improve guest-worker laws to meet agriculture’s needs.
“What Congress did on the farm bill is not perfect, but at least it gives us certainty for 2013,” he said during a speech in Nashville. “Now, we need the new Congress to show the leadership needed to pass long-term farm policy and enact the kind of reforms that the Senate and House agriculture committee have approved.”
The United States agricultureindustry annually employs 1.5 million workersand between 500,000 and 900,000 are believed to be undocumented. Farmers and ranchers say that despite the highunemployment rate, it is difficult to find workers willing to do the hard labor involved in fruit and vegetable harvesting.
The farm group proposed a two-part plan for labor reform. An Agricultural Worker Program would create11-month visas for individuals who move fromemployer-to-employer and 12-month visas for contracted workers,both of whichcould be renewed. The second part of the programwould allow undocumented workers to gain permanent legal status after working a specific number of daysannually for several years in a row.