Agricultural leaders in Missouri and Kansas are pressing their senators to greenlight legislation that could help them with the current labor shortage.
According to farmers, the midwest and Missouri are struggling with a labor shortage of workers in the agricultural sector, leading some top members of the industry to push senators to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
The bill would change the H-2A temporary worker program, and would reportedly make it easier to hire people from out of the country to work in U.S. farming throughout the year, per KBIA. It would also expand the program to allow it to be used for agricultural labor that is not only “temporary or seasonal.” The House of Representatives passed the measure last year and the Senate is still discussing its contents.
The program is incredibly popular, even in its current form. The amount of H-2A visas increased from 16,000 to 89,000 from 1997 to 2014, according to AgAmerica Lending.
The current agricultural labor shortage could result in higher food costs for the area. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that for the first time in U.S. history, the United States will bring in more farm items next year than it exports, according to Fox4.
Enrique Sanchez, the intermountain state director of American Business Immigration Coalition Action (ABIC-Action), said the labor shortages have been harming farmers, making it hard to get food into stores. He said if there is not as much food available, this can result in food costing more money. There are more pressing consequences, too.
“This is not just about cost. These are national security issues as well. Food security is national security. A nation that cannot feed itself is not a nation that is secure,” Sanchez said, according to KBIA.
He added that the possible alterations to the program would create more security for farmers and employees.
During a press conference, people spoke about how the regulations for the H-2A program are restrictive for the farm sector in Missouri and around the region.
Lyndsi Oestmann is the owner of Loma Vista nursery in Kansas, and is in the American Business Immigration Coalition, which is trying to get the legislation through the Senate. She said it’s difficult to get enough U.S. workers.
“The horticulture industry faces challenges obtaining sufficient domestic workers, and we consistently report shortages of seasonal and production workers,” she said.
Oestmann has also noted that she is leaving large swaths of land uncultivated because she doesn’t have enough people to work it.
“It’s urgent that we get that passed so that farmers like me and other farmers in Kansas can get the labor that we need,” Oestmann said. “So we don’t have to worry day-to-day and week-to-week if we are going to have enough labor to get the job done that we need to get done.”