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McHugh Fights for New York’s Farmers: Legislation Would Give Farmers Steady Access to Temporary Workers

Submitted article

Congressman John M. McHugh (NY-Pierrepont Manor) announced today that he has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives specifically targeted to help dairy farmers in New York and across the country have access to the workers they need to help their farms remain viable.  Congressman McHugh’s legislation, H.R. 6885, the Dairy and Sheep H-2A Visa Enhancement Act of 2008, would provide dairy farmers with access to the H-2A visa program and codify the longstanding practices that allow sheepherders such access.  The legislation has already garnered widespread support from the agricultural community, including American Sheep Industry Association, Dairy Farmers of America, First Pioneer Farm Credit, Farm Credit of Western New York, Michigan Milk Producers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, New York Farm Bureau, Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives, Northwest Farm Credit Services, Western Range Association, Yankee Farm Credit, and the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Association.

“As a lifelong resident of Northern New York, I know how critical our dairy farms and families are to our economy and the fabric of our local communities.  However, as our dairy farmers have repeatedly told me, their livelihood is threatened by the inability to access a stable workforce and they cannot afford to continue to wait until Congress enacts a comprehensive immigration bill.  Similarly, sheep ranchers in the United States need to be able to have the same confidence that they will continue to have access to the H-2A program.  This legislation would allow both to have that certainty, giving dairy farms and sheep ranches access to a stable, legal workforce with the confidence of continuing to operate at their current capacity and plan for expansion,” said Congressman McHugh.  “This program would be a significant first step in the much-needed farm labor reform process, and I am committed to continuing to fight for New York’s farmers.”

Nationwide, in 2007, nearly 60,000 commercial dairy farmers produced 185 billion pounds of milk worth $35.5 billion.  This generated more than $140 billion in economic activity and 1.2 million jobs in the United States.  In the 23rd Congressional District, there are approximately 2,000 dairy farms with some 190,000 milk cows across the 11 counties in the district.  Similarly, in 2007, national retail sales of sheep products were nearly $768 million. These retail sales supported an additional $1.4 billion in economic activity for a total economic impact of $2.2 billion.

Congressman McHugh’s legislation would codify the ability of American dairy farms and sheep ranchers to use the H-2A visa program, which currently only sheep herders can access through a regulatory provision.  The H-2A program would allow the workers on dairy farms and sheep ranches to obtain an initial three year visa, which may be extended for additional three year periods without requiring intervening periods of absence.  Currently, dairy farms are unable to access the H-2A program due to its “temporary or seasonal in nature” employment requirements.

Increasingly, the U.S. dairy workforce is relying upon those born outside of the United States, with some estimates indicating that at least 50 percent of all current labor is now foreign-born.  Without access to a stable workforce, many American farms are in danger of going out of business.  According to an analysis completed by the Farm Credit Associations of New York, over 445 New York dairy farms are highly vulnerable to this situation.

Congressman McHugh’s legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Education and Labor Committee for review.  Cosponsoring the bill with Congressman McHugh are Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Randy Kuhl (R-NY), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Tom Reynolds (R-NY), and Jim Walsh (R-NY).