ICYMI: Land O’Lakes CEO Urges Action on Bennet’s Affordable and Secure Food Act

Denver — In case you missed it, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford urged lawmakers to act swiftly on Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s Affordable and Secure Food Act. In her post, Ford highlights the critical skilled labor shortages family farmers and ranchers face that threaten the security of our food supply. Bennet’s legislation would address this crisis, reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program, expand H-2A visas to year-round jobs for the first time, modernize the application process, create more wage certainty, and ensure critical protections for farm workers.

Bennet announced this plan yesterday with U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), agricultural industry stakeholders, and farm workers. Together, they urged the Senate to attach this critical plan to the end-of-year omnibus package.

The post is available HERE and below.

U.S. Senate can stabilize our agricultural workforce and ease pressure on American pocketbooks

Right now, stressed American consumer budgets are paying the price for inaction on labor that could help reduce food prices. Farmers, food producers and rural communities are currently facing significant challenges. The impact of drought and water access is crushing production; supply chain challenges resulting from COVID disruptions and the war in Ukraine have brought instability in commodity markets and the lack of access to critical crop nutrients. This year alone, 6.4 million acres were not planted because of disasters including flooding and drought. Food security is national security. We must control the factors we can – enabling farm labor immigration first among them.

This labor crisis is impacting our nation’s ability to grow and produce the food we need and at this critical juncture we have an opportunity to reform our broken immigration system. In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This important piece of legislation would increase the supply of farmworkers, help lower food prices at the store and ensure people in this nation and around the world have access to food at a time of high inflation and global food insecurity.

At Land O’Lakes, our farmer and retail member-owned cooperative brings people together to find solutions for tough problems facing our country. Right now, we need leaders on both sides of the aisle to find a compromise that will advance ag labor reform during the lame duck session.

We are approximately 2.5 million workers short of the necessary levels to meet production needs. Agricultural workers here on H-2A visas help fill the void. While more than 90 percent of farms are still family-owned, they rely heavily on hardworking individuals who work with and for them to deliver the food that feeds the nation and world. This workforce is heavily supported by immigration. Consider the numbers: Immigrants make up 22 percent of workers in the U.S. food supply chain. Without immigrants, our food supply would be significantly compromised. While farmers have increased wages, they are still unable to attract workers for these labor-intensive jobs.

Without the ability to access hard working, skilled labor, crops are being left in the field, opportunities to increase production and lower costs are being wasted. A study published in the Journal of Conservation and Recycling found that 33.7 percent of hand-harvested field crops in California went unharvested in 2019. Now, produce prices are projected to increase by 40 percent. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. produce never left the farm this year due to a lack of farm labor. We have reached the tipping point. The economic impact lost by inaction is serious and is now directly impacting our food security and prices on the U.S. retail shelf.

That is why the U.S. Senate must act now to build on the House proposal and pass the Affordable and Secure Food Act in the lame duck session. This bill would not only allow more workers to come into the country every year to help bring in the harvest, but it allows the workers and families that have been working here for years and have become part of the fabric of farms and communities, to achieve legal status in a smart, safe manner. The bill would crack down on illegal immigration by requiring employers to use the E-Verify system which will make it much harder for someone with fake documents to get a job in the U.S. Everyone is concerned about securing our borders, and the agriculture industry is ready to do our part, as well. This legislation also provides that pathway.

Advancing this legislation is critical to the nation. All Americans should be concerned about the consequence inaction will have on global food security and a safe and affordable food supply at home. We ask leaders in the Senate to act quickly and decisively.