County Farm Bureau member leaders Allan Robinette (Kent), Rob Bodtke (Van Buren) and Kyle Rasch (Ottawa) recently joined Michigan Farm Bureau National Legislative Counsel John Kran in Washington D.C., pleading for congressional action on the unaffordable wage rates and workforce challenges facing agriculture.
“Without reforms to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) the sky continues to darken for farmers relying on the H-2A guest worker program,” Kran said. “Inaction will cause more farms to go out of business and over time our nation becomes more reliant on imported food instead of produce grown on our soil, under our food safety regulations.
“That’s why it’s so important to have our farmers here in D.C. sharing their story, representing agriculture and being a broken record when it comes to saying that we need the AEWR addressed and the H-2A program modernized.”
Spending two full days in the nation’s capital, Kran and the trio of members met with many leaders and decision makers including: Michigan Reps. Huizenga, Moolenaar and Slotkin; partners at the Agriculture Workforce Coalition; staff from the Senate Agriculture Committee; and staff with Reps. Davis (NC), Costa (CA) and Crawford (AR). Kran said Davis, Costa and Crawford have been strong out of state partners on labor issues, through their work on the House Agriculture Committee.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (center) met with the group and is cosponsoring legislation that would freeze the minimum wage for H-2A workers.
Robinette, a fifth-generation fruit growers from Grand Rapids, explained what the group requested of lawmakers during their visits.
“We're hoping to get a freeze on AEWR or some sort of relief for farmers as we come to the end of the year … before we can tackle bigger issues for H-2A further down the road,” he said, noting the timing of the visit was important because USDA’s Farm Labor Survey results will soon be released. The survey provides the basis for employment and wage estimates for workers directly hired by U.S. farms and ranches.
“We're looking at a possible or a definite increase in the wage rate and we don't know what that's going to be yet,” Robinette said. “A short-term fix to try and buy us some time is very crucial.”
Bodtke of South Haven is a co-owner of Cornerstone Ag where he manages his family’s third generation in blueberry production. He shared what the group learned about the current D.C. political climate.
“It is very challenging on the hill right now,” Bodtke said, speaking to division among political parties but also adding, “We have a lot of support in Michigan on both sides and the Democrats and Republicans really understand the plea of the farmer.”
Another perspective was shared by Conklin apple grower Kyle Rasch regarding the challenge of succession planning amid quickly escalating costs and extreme uncertainty.
“I’ve been sharing that I'm going through the farm succession process right now, on our own farm,” Rasch said. “It's important to have stability … some predictability, so that we know how to make long term decisions for our business.
“I appreciate Farm Bureau and John for showing us around and giving us a platform to talk to members of Congress.”