Farm employers are as skittish as a cow herd awaiting an oncoming thunderstorm. The storm, in this case, is the growing shortage of legal immigrant workers that plagues the dairy, fruit and vegetable industries.
This storm comes with lightning - August's announced crackdown by the Department of Homeland Security sparked fear in employers and workers across the country. More on that shortly.
"Indeed, the flow of workers has diminished," reports Brandon Mallory, president of Agri-Placement Services, Macedon, N.Y. Agri-Placement is a major supplier of verified-legal farm workers for much of the Northeast. "It's hard to say whether the flow of 'legal' workers is less of a problem than with illegals, as they are with those without proper authorization."
The labor crisis has spurred dairy farmer interest in robotic milking systems. Seven units were installed early this summer by one dealership in central and western New York alone.
Pressure for AgJobs must build quickly
Last week, diverse segments of American agriculture gathered in Washington, D.C., to strategize the next move for resolving the increasingly critical illegal migrant worker issue – after Congress dropped the ball in June. "We are fighting very hard to re-introduce AgJobs this fall," says Mallory. The forces must form and move quickly to make it happen, he adds.
Other sources, fresh from the strategy sessions, say the best political bet may be attaching the broadly supported AgJobs package to the Farm Bill. Mallory urges all producers to contact their congressmen and urge swift enactment. Learn how by visiting the Web site: capwiz.com/NMPF/home.
Court temporarily stalls 'no match'
Because of Congress's inaction on immigration, DHS planned to kick in a new "Social Security no match" rule – with severe penalties to employers. But on August 31, a federal judge in San Francisco issued temporary stay order, buying employers extra time to come into compliance.
A hearing is set for October 1 to hear arguments over whether it should be made permanent. But as National Milk Producers Federation officials caution, it's very possible that the court will uphold the rule in its entirety.