“This new proposal will be stable, like (the H-2A visa program), but that is probably where the similarities end.”

Last November, Kristi Boswell, AFBFdirector of congressional relations, told Farm Press that the organization “has worked over the past year to find a solution that works for all of agriculture. (We’ve looked for) something that works for a small grower in California and a dairy farmer in upstate New York.

“As components of that, we must address the long-term and a transitionary, short-term period. Part of the long-term is a new agricultural worker program that mimics the domestic workforce allowing growers to offer contracts and hire at-will. It also is a more market-based and flexible program in regard to labor standards and distinguishing factors from the H-2A program.

 “It is not an H-2A reform but remedies the failings of H-2A. We feel it will be a better alternative to the H-2A program.”

In the short-term, said Boswell, “we recognize there is a large percentage of our workforce that is here falsely documented. We must have a transition period and a workforce that can pass an E-Verify test while implementing the agricultural worker program.”

The AFBF has proposed work authorization for “a limited population of key workers that have agricultural experience and will continue to work in agriculture to remain in status on what we call an ‘ag card.’”

Boswell envisions the card would be biometric and carried to prove work authorization. “This would not be an H-2A reform but a new program. It would remedy the failings of H-2A and provide more flexibility than the H-2A program provides.”

Another hot labor issue was stirred up in 2012 when the Department of Labor proposed new rules that would have prevented many youths from working in agriculture. The alarm in rural America was immediate.

“After proposing changes that would have prevented many young people from working in agriculture, the Labor Department withdrew its proposal and said it would work with us on educating farm families about the importance of farm safety,” said Stallman. However, “that doesn’t mean we can rest easy and assume that the parental exemptions in the child labor rules will always be protected.

“We need to make sure that our heritage of family farming is protected, with parents teaching their kids the ropes and instilling in them respect for the land, for animals, for agriculture and for the deep satisfaction that only comes from hard work. I think that’s something our country could use a little more of these days, don’t you?”

dbennett@farmpress.com