Fixing Idaho’s farm labor shortage will require fixing immigration. The Senate should act

MARCH 30, 2022

The number one issue for farmers today is the labor shortage. Wherever you go, there are help wanted signs. Common sense immigration solutions would go a long way to helping farmers find the workers they need to keep food on America’s tables. Those solutions must encompass stabilization of our existing workforce, and be coupled with substantial reforms to streamline and increase access to the agricultural guest workers program.

As Rep. Simpson made clear at a recent round-table alongside a broad cross-section of Idaho agricultural and business groups, including the Idaho Dairymen and Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and the Idaho Farm Bureau, this is the most important issue he has worked on in all his years in Congress.

The need to address the extreme labor shortage is incredibly urgent. We don’t want more waste and empty shelves in stores because workers are not available to harvest crops. Shay Myers joined the same round table, convened by the American Business Immigration Coalition. There, he shared that last spring, Shay’s farm, Owyhee Produce, was forced to give up nearly 150,000 pounds of asparagus because dozens of guest workers weren’t allowed to enter the U.S. on time. The delay cost Owyhee Produce an entire year’s profit, around $180,000.

It’s not just Owyhee Produce that suffers from a broken immigration system either. Because of the situation, Owyhee is dramatically scaling back asparagus production. Everyday Idahoans that work in agriculture-adjacent fields like irrigation, fertilizer, insurance, equipment manufacturing, and Idahoans that rely on agriculture outputs like restaurateurs, food processors, and grocers will all see shifts in their supply chains. This may not seem like a big deal, but Owyhee Produce is one of thousands of farms nationwide that are struggling to find adequate labor to meet product demand.

Rep. Simpson continues to work extremely hard to find solutions to our agricultural labor challenges, and Congress again has the opportunity to address this critical issue. The labor shortage is urgent and we need legislation to keep moving forward. We need the Senate to introduce its solution to provide short and long-term relief to our agricultural labor crisis.

Immigration solutions are the right thing to do for workers, farmers, and the economy. As we have traveled the state, we have met many of these immigrant workers. They are good, decent people who just want the chance to work, pay taxes, and provide for their families. We need to help them do that. Anyone who calls this amnesty has not done their homework. At the same time, we must reform the guest worker program to allow farms to address both seasonal and year-round needs while keeping their businesses economically viable.

It is wrong to let Idaho farmers go under because they can’t find the workers they need, and because our guest worker program is insufficient to meet their needs. It should be clear to anyone in agriculture that farmers need a labor solution as soon as possible, so that they can provide for their families, and farm workers deserve a chance to earn a better life for their families.

On a human level, it is not right that a worker from Mexico or another country could learn that his mother has died back home, but he can’t go to her funeral because he wouldn’t be let back into the U.S. These are folks who kept our food supply going during the pandemic and work through extreme heat and wildfires.

If legislation can move through the Senate, it could serve as a model for passing other bipartisan workforce stabilization bills. We strongly urge the Senate to pick up negotiations and get to work so that our farmers and our farm workers can continue to work putting food on Americans’ tables. Rep. Michael Simpson is serving his twelfth term in the U.S. House of Representatives for Idaho’s Second Congressional District. Bryan Searle is serving his seventh year as president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.


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