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Groups launch agriculture workforce coalition to address labor needs

Organizations representing a broad cross-section of agricultural employers announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. As the unified voice of agriculture, the AWC's goal is to seek legislation that ensures America's farms, ranches and other agricultural operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce.

In particular, the Coalition, recognizing that existing programs and previous proposals have proved unworkable, is putting forward a framework that includes both an earned adjustment in status for current experienced farm workers and a program to ensure that producers continue to have access to a workforce as current agricultural employees move on to other jobs. Agriculture key to the framework will be ensuring that it meets the needs of all of agriculture--both those employers with seasonal labor needs and those who provide year-round employment opportunities.

American agriculture as we know it would not be possible without the contributions of more than 1.5 million hired workers each year. Beyond the farm gate, each of these workers supports two to three full-time jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors. Ensuring that farmers, ranchers and growers have access to the workers they need to maintain their productivity and competitiveness will help support continued growth in employment across the economy and in areas far removed from farm country.

Additional information on the AWC can be found at www.agworkforcecoalition.org.

"The continued production of labor-intensive agricultural crops and products in the U.S., ranging from dairy and livestock to fruit, vegetables and tree nuts, cannot be accomplished without vitally important labor provided by skilled and experienced farm workers," said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. "Without people to work on America's farms and ranches, pick the crops or milk the cows, all other issues in agriculture become irrelevant."

"We have an unprecedented opportunity now that Democrats and Republicans are having a serious conversation about the critical need for immigration reform--an opportunity that cannot be wasted," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. "Agricultural employers have come together as never before in lock-step and agreement about a workable proposal that will serve the needs of farmers, workers and the American people. The time for immigration reform is now."

"This coalition framework proposal will help American agriculture achieve a market-based, flexible agricultural worker program that makes sense for everyone," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. "It's important for workers, farmers and especially consumers that we have a legal, stable workforce in place. It's time to move the discussion forward and find a solution. It's time to meet agriculture's labor crisis head on."

"After seven years of hard but fruitless work on this issue, dairy farmers have a rare opportunity in 2013 to achieve a comprehensive solution to the immigration policy challenge. We see our participation in this coalition as the best chance to shape federal policies that will ensure farm employers' continued access to both existing and future dairy workers," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.

"Having a stable and viable workforce has never been more critical for our nation's fruit and vegetable industry, and we must continue to fervently educate lawmakers about all of agriculture's crucial labor needs," said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association. "At this critical time, the AWC brings together the nation's leading agriculture organizations, delivering our messages with a strong, unified voice, to work with Congress for forging a landmark farm labor solution."

"Apple growers face a labor crisis and need immigration reform to ensure American apples are harvested each year. Each apple--over 20 billion--must be picked by hand. Apples are grown in 36 states and play a critical role in our rural economy, creating jobs and returning millions to local business. Apples are also a cultural icon in our national heritage," said Nancy Foster, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association. "The old adage, 'As American as apple pie,' will be obsolete unless this labor crisis is solved because we will import our fruit and export our jobs."

"Nursery and greenhouse crops are among the highest value crops still produced in America. They bring economic and environmental benefits and jobs to the communities where they are grown and used. But their production is very labor-intensive," said Michael Geary, executive vice president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association. "No issue is more important to our growers than Congress acting--smartly and soon--to ensure a stable and legal farm workforce.

"NCAE members have worked for immigration reforms to assure stability of our current agricultural workforce and allow new workers to join us. U.S. domestic production of food, ornamentals, and other labor-intensive crops is dependent on immigrant workers," said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. "Our economy, security and health benefit from robust domestic agricultural production. Our workers will benefit from safe, free movement and job choices that would derive from updated federal immigration policies. Our current H2 visa programs are badly flawed and poorly administered, we need a new model. NCAE is proud to be part of the large industry coalition represented in the AWC, and we look to our elected officials to take action in 2013 to assure the future of domestic labor-intensive agriculture in the form of immigration reforms which allow current workers to remain and provides a workable program for new arrivals."

"American agriculture has come together to support a common-sense plan that will provide needed stability to our agricultural labor force--both seasonal and year-round--and will help ensure America's food production remains at home," said Chalmers Carr, USA Farmers president. "After years of work, we have a proposal that addresses the labor needs of all sectors of the agriculture industry."

"The need for able and willing agricultural workers goes beyond state boundaries. It's a critical issue for our nation," said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. "As a coalition representing all sectors of agriculture from across the country, we're seeking a bipartisan solution that will provide the workforce that American farmers need to continue growing and harvesting abundant, safe and healthful food for our country."

"It takes many hands to feed America," noted Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen. "We know that all too well in California. One of every five gallons of milk comes from our state. We must have access to a stable, legal workforce including our current, experienced workers."

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition brings together organizations representing the diverse needs of agricultural employers across the country. AWC serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America's farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce.

To help achieve this goal, the AWC has developed a framework that presents a viable solution to agriculture's labor needs. The proposal includes both an earned adjustment in status for current agricultural employees who presently lack legal status and a program to ensure an adequate farm workforce in the future. Also, unlike current programs such as H2-A, the AWC proposal is meant to ensure that all types of producers--including both those with seasonal labor needs and ones with year-round labor needs--have access to the workforce they need to remain productive and competitive.

Association members of AWC include: American Farm Bureau Federation; American Nursery & Landscape Association; Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; National Council of Agricultural Employers; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Milk Producers Federation; USA Farmers; U.S. Apple Association; United Fresh Produce Association; Western Growers Association; and Western United Dairymen. Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform is a coalition partner.

Date: 2/11/2013



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