What is in this article?:
• Senate introduces immigration reform legislation.
• The Agriculture Workforce Coalition backs proposals as positive, necessary for U.S. farmers.
• The United Farm Workers Union on board.
• The USDA would be chief administrator of new worker program.
Pushed on the possibility of current farm workers leaving the field for other professions, Conner admitted the issue was “very, very sensitive during negotiations. … There’s a strong incentive program for workers (to stay) but, at the end of the day, we don’t know how many will opt to do other things. That’s where the guest worker program became very important for the workforce coalition…
“We believe the compromise has the number of potential guest workers to backfill for (any) loss of … of the current domestic workforce in agriculture.”
Conner pointed to the aforementioned emergency authority available for the Secretary of Agriculture, “to take in the event that we’re a little off on the numbers. We all recognize the secretary isn’t just going to do this on a whim. But with good, sound data and if there’s a need because of a shortage of workers, he has the ability to lift the guest worker caps to meet demand.”
Rodriguez: “There are a lot of provisions that will encourage farm workers to stay in the agriculture industry. First, they’ll have the opportunity to gain permanent residency status within a five-year period. … There will (also, due to wages) be an enticement or incentive for farm workers to stay in agriculture and look to this as more of an occupation and profession as opposed to an entry-level job.”
How might the legislation affect the growth various agricultural sectors?
In Florida, said Mike Stuart, president and CEO of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, “we face a lot of international competitive pressures and have for quite some time. … A lot of the discussion during the negotiations related to ensuring the development of an agreement that would allow us to be competitive into the future. In the discussions, I wasn’t so much concerned about the very short-term but I was concerned about the long-term…
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“Five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, we’ve structured a program that will allow (fruit and vegetable) industries in a competitive environment … will have access to ‘blue card’ workers, particularly during the transitional period. Then, under the new visa program, they’ll have access to a workforce that … particularly for vegetable commodities in Florida, a very competitive environment with countries like Mexico and others.”
Rodriguez praised many aspects of the U.S. system. “I think the (U.S.) ag industry in comparison to other countries is, in my estimation, far beyond. The infrastructure here, the protections here for American consumers … does protect the industry as much as it does workers and consumers...
“Because the workforce here is highly professional, they’re very skilled workers and pick with a lot of quality and high productivity rates. It’s far more than what you see outside the United States. For that reason, it behooves us all to maintain a viable agricultural industry.”