A new, modern guestworker program for agricultural workers is needed so that U.S. farmers and ranchers can continue growing food, tending livestock and contributing to the nation’s economy, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told Congress Tuesday, Feb. 26.

“We want to keep these jobs in America for U.S. workers, not outsource them,” Stallman testified to the House’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Farm Bureau urged lawmakers to implement a new, market-based labor program administered by the Agriculture Department.

The new program would serve as a substitute for and eventually replace the H-2A program now in place, Stallman explained. It would also provide farmers with access to a legal and stable workforce over the long-term. In addition, the new program would provide employers with greater certainty that they will have access to the workforce they need, when they need it and at a competitive cost.

“Ultimately, agriculture’s goal is to develop a program that treats workers fairly, while being efficient and economical for employers to use,” Stallman said, noting that workers would be able to work for multiple employers under a structure that enforces worker rights and protects them from exploitation.

Stallman also addressed agriculture’s short-term labor needs in his testimony.

“In order to provide short-term stability and an orderly, effective transition to a new guestworker program it is imperative that any legislation approved by Congress include provisions permitting current agricultural workers who might not otherwise qualify to obtain work authorization,” Stallman said.

“Any new program will take time to be implemented fully,” Stallman said. “Granting existing experienced agricultural workers work authorization is a crucial part of making sure that there is not economic dislocation in the agricultural sector while we transition to a new program.”

AFBF economists estimate that the agricultural economy and the broader U.S. economy are facing $9 billion or more in lost productivity each year if the agriculture labor force issue is not addressed.

In closing, Stallman reiterated the cooperative efforts of a broad coalition — the Agriculture Workforce Coalition — that is working in a unified manner “to construct a model agricultural labor program that will work” for all sectors of agriculture.