County Farm Bureau members, specifically growers of specialty crops, and Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) staff traveled to Washington, DC last week week to advocate for agricultural labor reform and to participate in an ag labor conference, put on by the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), of which MFB is a member.
Representing the MFB Labor Advisory Committee, Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association (MACMA) and Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS) were Michael DeRuiter, MFB Board and fruit grower from Oceana County, Steve Thome, apple grower from Kent County, Northwest County Farm Bureau member Dean Johnson who grows apples, cherries and wine grapes, Dawn Drake, MACMA general manager, Katie Vargas, Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS) operations manager and Laurie Swanson, asst operations manager and labor programs coordinator with GLALS.
“It’s was important to be here in our nation’s capital with fellow specialty crop growers from our state, and to represent the Michigan Farm Bureau as a member of the board, to advocate on issues concerning ag labor,” said DeRuiter. “It’s always good to be able to meet face to face with our members of Congress to discuss matters of concern, and on this trip, we talked to them about the adverse wage rate and the urgency in finding a legislative solution to our ag labor needs.”
Also, in attendance were Berrien County Farm Bureau members Fred Leitz, Brett Costanza and Russell Costanza, Greg Bird of the Michigan Vegetable Council and Kristiana Coutu of Varnum, LLP.
While at NCAE, participants had a chance to hear from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, numerous members of Congress involved in the immigration reform debate, including Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), representatives from U.S. Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of Justice, U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, and an opportunity to network with H-2A users and agricultural employers from across the country.
“Ag labor reform continues to be a top priority for Michigan Farm Bureau,” said MFB National Legislative Counsel John Kran. “It was great to witness our members in action, advocating on such a critical policy issue. We’ll continue to make visits to the hill as long as necessary to accomplish our goal. I’d encourage members to have conversations with their members of Congress on labor whenever the opportunity presents itself.”
In addition to the meeting, MFB members advocated for Senate consideration of an agricultural guest worker program, help in addressing the unsustainable growth rate in the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, and trade issues negatively impacting the specialty crop sector. Members met with House and Senate offices and officials from the White House and USDA.