June 16, 2011, Washington, D.C.
Statement by National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner at the Press Conference of Agricultural Leaders Discussing the Impact of Mandatory E-Verify Legislation
“Good afternoon. I am Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. I’d like to welcome you to the joint press conference that we are holding with the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, or ACIR.
“We’re here today to talk about the potential impacts that the recently introduced mandatory E-Verify bill will have on agriculture.
“Joining me today are three distinguished industry leaders who will talk first hand about what this bill could mean to the farmers, ranchers and growers who supply us with the safe, abundant and affordable food supply that we enjoy in this country.
“Before calling on them to talk about the specific impacts of this bill on their commodities and regions, I’d like to give a little context.
“NCFC as part of ACIR has been working towards the goal of meaningful immigration reform for agriculture for many years now. Any reform, in our view, must meet the current and future labor needs of agriculture. Without it, the economic livelihoods of many U.S. farmers and their farm employees are at risk.
“And the economic damage will not be just limited to our farms and ranches. Each of the 1.6 million hired farm employees support 2 to 3 fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors.
“We also know from long experience that these are jobs that Americans, even in our current economic environment, simply will not do anymore.
“The continued production of labor-intensive agricultural crops and products in the U.S., ranging from dairy and livestock to fruit and vegetables and tree nuts, can not be accomplished without vitally important labor provided by skilled and experienced farm workers.
“Congress must address agriculture’s need for a stable, legal, and reliable workforce. Without people to work on America’s farms and ranches, pick the crops, or milk the cows, all other issues in agriculture become irrelevant.”
Statement by Greg Wickham, chairman of NCFC and CEO of Dairylea Cooperative, Syracuse, N.Y. at the Agriculture Press Conference on the Impact of Mandatory E-Verify Legislation
“Thank you, Chuck. I am Greg Wickham, the chairman this year of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the CEO of Dairylea Cooperative, a farmer-owned milk marketing and service cooperative based in Syracuse, New York. We count over 2,000 dairy farm families throughout the Northeast as our member-owners.
“Dairy is a labor intensive industry—cows must be milked twice a day, 365 days a year, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July. Other commodities have their harvest over the course of a few weeks once, maybe twice, a year. For dairy farmers, their harvest comes twice a day, every day.
“Dairy producers continue to face a workforce crisis. As Chuck pointed out, few American workers will do these jobs. We hear all of the time how our members place ads regarding employment opportunities on their farms. Many times, these help wanted ads go unanswered. And if people do respond, they generally are disenchanted with the job after only a few days.“Even today, when the economic crisis has driven the national unemployment rate to more than 10 percent, the agricultural sector still struggles to find domestic employees.
“For dairy in particular, an adequate and skilled work force is a must to help ensure the well being, health and productivity of our cows. And while others in agriculture at least have the H-2A guest worker program, those of us with dairy and livestock operations have been left without any legal channel to find workers.
“Looking beyond dairy and looking at the northeast U.S. as a whole, a recent study by Farm Credit East estimates that, without an adequate farm labor workforce, over 1,650 farms across the region could go out of business, meaning a loss of $1.6 billion in lost agricultural production and nearly 20,000 jobs destroyed.
“The last few years have been difficult ones in dairy–Dairylea’s member owners have survived historically low prices for milk that eroded a lifetime’s worth of equity. Passing mandatory E-Verify legislation without provisions to address the unique labor needs of agriculture will be the final nail in the coffin for dairy producers and other farmers throughout the Northeast.
“With this in mind, we do appreciate that Chairman Smith of the House Judiciary Committee has acknowledged in his recently introduced bill that agriculture faces unique challenges. Under the provisions of the bill, ag is one of the final industries to be phased into mandatory E-Verify. Unfortunately, this gives us little peace as we face increased enforcement, and does nothing to address our ongoing need for a legal and stable workforce.
“We are also concerned that the federal and state contractor provisions could have unintended complications in the agricultural setting. If so, they could further jeopardize American farmers’ ability to provide fresh, U.S. produced milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables to school children or our military.
“The bottom line is that we need help now. We need access to a stable work supply to capitalize on all of the opportunities in front of ag today. Without it, our nation’s abundant food supply could be in jeopardy.
“I hope that if Congress does act on the mandatory E-Verify bill, provisions will be included to ensure a stable and dependable workforce for agriculture, including year-round dairy and livestock operations.”