Berrien County Farm Bureau hosted a meeting May 1 for fruit and vegetable growers to discuss the country’s agricultural workforce crisis with elected officials. The more than 50 attendees at A&B Costanza Farms in Sodus included Dist. 4 Congressman Bill Huizenga and representatives from the offices of Dist. 5 Congressman Tim Walberg and U.S. Senator Gary Peters.
Jen Costanza opened the meeting by sharing the A&B Costanza Farms story: the hard work and tough decisions that brought them to where they are today, and their concerns about the farm’s sustainability given the H-2A issue of Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR).
Other farmers in attendance echoed Costanza’s sentiments, saying American growers cannot compete with those in Mexico when our labor costs are exponentially higher. Food security is a national security issue, they said, insisting that this year will be America’s first as a net importer of food.
The common appeal to Congress was for help sustaining their farms, communities and the nation’s food economy — by fixing or replacing AEWR with a predictable, stable wage rate.
Congressman Huizenga encouraged those in attendance to “Tell your story every chance you get” in hopes of getting people to better understand agriculture.
The meeting lasted well over two hours, with Berrien County Farm Bureau member Brett Totzke summing it up nicely.
“It means a lot to us that you have spent an extra hour past the scheduled meeting time to ask questions and hear us explain what is happening on our farms,” Totzke said. “It gives us some hope that maybe some positive change can happen in Washington for ag labor.”
Jennie Koebel is administrative coordinator for the Berrien County Farm Bureau.