Real reform not rhetoric
By Trent Loos
I really have no trouble believing this but that is what makes it so troubling. At the 2014 U.S. Custom Harvesters annual convention in Wichita, one issue surfaces to the top of the list as the greatest challenge facing harvesters. It may be the greatest challenge facing growth in the entire farming sector: Where are the workers?
In conversations with harvesters from every part of the country, they all have the same issues. I am not belittling the fact that state laws for transporting equipment and an under-appreciation of why big machines must travel up and down highways is an issue, but that ranks second when it comes to finding someone to drive the machine on the road or in the field.
The H-2A worker program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. The H-2 program was created in 1943 when the Florida sugar cane industry obtained permission to hire Caribbean workers to cut sugar cane on temporary visas. It then saw a revision in 1986 to H2-A agricultural workers as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
I can’t remember how many people in recent weeks have told me about the need for immigration reform. My response to that is that we need to work on ethics reform before we need immigration reform. I am not talking about illegal immigrants storming the country but about the one in five Americans who choose not to work because they are lazy.
With all the debate and negative press surrounding the recent farm bill, let’s remind ourselves that last year one of every $8 spent in the grocery store was food welfare. How can we talk about true sustainability when over 10 percent of food purchases are made with a handout?
Quite possibly even more troubling than that was a conversation I had with Tracy Zeorian of Manly, Neb., who is on the board of U.S. Custom Harvesters. Tracy and her husband, Jim, have four daughters and they expect them to work, as I assume most all farm/ranch families do. Tracy said someone in her close circle of friends actually asked her, “Why do you expect so much responsibility from your kids?”
When we, as a nation, don’t expect our kids to work, what do we have left? I will be the first to tell you that I did not work as a kid like my father did and honestly our girls do not work as hard as my wife and I did as kids. But we expect them to work on the farm if they do not have some off-farm activity, and they work when they are asked and when we need them to. This is a far cry from the “entitlement” mentality that I see every single day eroding the fabric of our nation.
Aside from the failing work ethic that some have fallen into, the issue of immigrants filling the essential jobs in agriculture needs to be recognized. The regulators, who have very little ability to guard against the illegal hires, seem to be attempting to prove their worth by harassing the very individuals who find a way to make the H-2A system actually work. My buddy Hank Vogler of North Spring Valley, Nev., has used these temporary farm laborers on his Need More Sheep Company operation for 30 years.
The stories that Hank tells about keeping 18 Peruvians employed without government intervention are unbelievable. He tells of regulators who show up to conduct audits that cost $6,000 regardless of how well he has documented his legal workforce. Paper pushers creating job security are all that these audits amount to.
We have a serious problem when it comes to work ethic in this nation. I am looking for one elected official or real leader to make a public stand about the real answer to immigration issues in America. The solution is getting people out of couch potato mode and making them get a real job. We need true leadership in action instead of more stump speech rhetoric that is aimed at simply trying to get another vote.
While there are some people who need our help, there are far too many that are more than content to wait for someone to give them a handout. That mentality has got to change or we are heading down a slippery slope to a country that won’t be able to sustain itself because the non-workers will outnumber and outvote the workers that are forced to support them!
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.