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Legislators remain noncommittal to AEWR push: ‘Nothing, and I mean nothing, is moving’

Date Posted: March 28, 2024
Moolenaar Visit

John Walt Boatright said Michigan farmers shouldn’t give legislators a pass.

“It’s a tough immigration issue, they will tell you,” said Boatright, director of governmental affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). “But they are paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions. You will hear about the finger-pointing, but we need a bipartisan solution. Don’t hesitate to express urgency.”

Michigan Farm Bureau members expressed that urgency on Capitol Hill Wednesday during the Presidents’ Capitol Summit, where they pressed legislators from their respective districts on issues regarding the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), farm bill and dicamba, among others.

“Unclear rulemaking is onerous to members,” added Boatwright, noting there are eight different rulemakings when it comes to AEWR, which rose almost 7% to $18.50 per hour in Michigan at the beginning of the year.

Over the past five years, Michigan's AEWR has increased by $4.96 an hour.

“It’s out of control. We need a pause on the wage rate until we have a clear understanding. Why can’t you support this relief for family farms? Put them on their heels,” Boatright said.

MFB and legislators have already voiced opposition to how labor wages are determined, including asking for an H-2A visa guestworker wage freeze at 2023 levels until there’s some form of a long-term solution. Rep. John Moolenaar’s Supporting Farm Operations Act, introduced in January, would freeze AEWR until the end of 2025.

“Fourth- and fifth-generation farmers are facing steep wage increases that are affecting their future,” Moolenaar (R-MI) said. “There’s tremendous urgency to help them now.”

But that urgency is marred by disagreements between Republicans and Democrats, said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, noting the disconnect is the worst it’s been in his 13 years in Congress.

“How do you fix a circular firing squad?” he deadpanned to members. “That's part of our problem. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is moving.”

But the lack of movement has reached a fever pitch, one that’s forcing action by Oceana County specialty crop grower Nick Oomen who walked the halls of Capitol Hill telling legislators to freeze the minimum wage rates for H-2A farmworkers.

The lack of congressional action also spurred Ottawa County Farm Bureau member Megan Visser to ask Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to cosign Moolenaar’s bill.

Still, legislators remain noncommittal.

“I want to get a permanent solution,” Stabenow said. “The House passed a bipartisan bill a couple of years ago for ag labor that got stuck in the Senate. I'm now introducing a bill with Sen. Bennet based on that. It was supported by a large number of agricultural groups that would cap every year the wage increase at a little over 3%.”

So a temporary freeze won’t work?

“I think just a freeze is going to be difficult to get passed all the way through the system,” Stabenow said.


A group of Michigan Farm Bureau members having a discussion with a legislator in his Washington, D.C. office.

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) talks to Mitch Kline (Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau) about dicamba and other chemistry affected by EPA decision-making. | Photo by Farm News Media