The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide farmers and ranchers opportunities to expand. Passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year, the bill now awaits movement in the Senate. Kansas Livestock Association Chief Executive Officer Matt Teagarden says the bill would allow farmers and ranchers in his state the opportunity to provide more food for consumers.
“The bottom line is a lack of labor is limiting opportunities to grow our operations. Our members, when they think about opportunities to either feed more cattle or milk more cows, that labor component is a significant limiting factor. There are a number of folks from around the world desire to come to the United States, desire to work, and our antiquated guestworker system is a limiting factor there.”
When agriculture faces labor shortages, those issues translate to higher costs for consumers, and lower prices for farmers and ranchers.
“As we saw kind of bottlenecks in the processing sector during COVID, I think it’s a good illustration of what could happen going forward. That bottleneck processing created higher prices for consumers and lower prices for producers. And so, looking forward, I think we could see continued elevated prices for food for domestic consumers. And one thing that we see potentially happening is our actual food production moving offshore. And so really see this as a food security issue that we’re facing.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act offers year-round guestworkers, which would help ease the labor issues farmers and ranchers are facing.
“What we see there is an opportunity from an ag perspective to move forward. And specifically when we look at the H-2A program, the opportunity for year round guestworkers to feed cattle and milk cows, that happens every day, 365 days a year, having the opportunity to access guestworkers in that H-2A program for livestock production is really important.”
Teagarden says now is the best chance to get the legislation passed.
“The political realities of this issue, it’s very difficult, very complicated to have any kind of movement. So, where we have a bill that has passed the House already, some really good discussions among senators on language that can get support of the Senate and get passed, the timing is really critical. We don’t know what the next Congress will bring, but the process will have to start over, that is certain. And so, the timing is right, right now, to take this step. And if it doesn’t happen the next couple of months, this session of this Congress, I’m afraid the opportunity will be lost.”
He encourages farmers and ranchers to contact their Senators and offer their support to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“In Kansas, Senators Moran and Marshall. For folks in other states, your respective Senators. Just making the case that there’s a solution here, maybe not a solution, but a step in the right direction. And so, across the country, making sure Senators understand the I’d say urgent need for reform in the H-2A program, expansion of the H-2A program would be important.”