Along with many in the country’s farming industry, the U.S. House of Representatives inability as a whole to pass a farm bill frustrated specialty crop leaders, too. But the House Judiciary Committee did make progress to create a new temporary agricultural guestworker program.

The House shot down the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act Act of 2013 with a vote of 195-234 June 20.

“We felt we had a very strong bill for specialty crops that was supported by members from both sides of the aisle,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy. “We strongly encourage the House Leadership and the House Agriculture Committee to get back together and bring back to the House floor a bill that can pass before the current extension expires at the end of September.”

As the national trade group that represents the fresh-cut industry, from growers, to shippers to foodservice professionals, Guenther said United Fresh will continue to evaluate the best path forward to ensure continued support for critical specialty crop programs either through an extension or in a new version of the farm bill.

On the same day, though, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Agricultural Guestworker, or AG Act. H.R. 1773 creates a new temporary agricultural guestworker program. The AG Act is one of several bills the House Judiciary Committee has introduced to address problems within our immigration system. 

“Today’s passage of the AG Act takes us one step closer to providing American farmers with a workable and reliable guestworker program.  American farmers have faced unnecessary hurdles and excessive red tape when hiring foreign workers under the current H-2A program.  The AG Act replaces this broken program with a new, sensible guestworker program that is designed to boost the modern agricultural labor market as needed,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chief sponsor of the AG Act, in a statement.

The AG Act promises to:

  • Remove barriers and excessive paperwork farmers face when hiring foreign workers.  If a grower is designated as a registered agricultural employer by USDA and agrees to the terms and obligations of participating in the program, then they can easily hire guestworkers already admitted to the U.S. without having to file another petition for the individual worker.
  • Protect farmers from abusive litigation by discouraging frivolous and abusive litigation. Growers may require as a condition of employment that guestworkers be subject to binding arbitration and mediation of any grievances in relation to the employment relationship.  This bill also eliminates special treatment for the Legal Services Corporation.
  • Eliminates government-imposed wage rate that is part of the current temporary agricultural guestworker program and replaces it with the market-based prevailing wage rate or the state minimum wage, or whichever is greater.
  • Places USDA as the administer of the new program and not the Department of Labor.