“We came up with some proposals and, in October, the (AFBF) board approved the plan. My understanding is the next step is to find other sponsors by reaching out to other ag associations and groups where labor is a big issue.

“We want everyone is on the same page so that we can put forth a unified to Congress. This very, very complex problem needs a solution.”

A solution for agriculture alone…

“The general concept — and one of the things that’s different about this approach than previous ones — is we’re trying to design something that is strictly for agriculture. We’re not trying to include the construction industry. This is for agriculture alone. We feel agriculture has special needs.

“In Florida —and in a few other states — we have a huge labor force already here. They may or may not be using fraudulent documentation to gain employment. But there are a lot of workers here currently.

“One of the things we want out of a program is to provide the ability for those who are living in our communities now — who have kids in our school systems and are a part of the community and aren’t leaving — can still work in agriculture if they so desire. They’re trained and they’ve been here. Many of them are our foremen and higher-level employees.

“So, part of this ‘ag card’ would be to allow someone already here, or someone coming here, to have some a work authorization document. It would allow them to legally work in agriculture.”

On the proposal’s at-will and contract sections…

“The reason there were two paths in the proposal is that some wanted an at-will work force while others are much more comfortable with contract-based employees. The work group tried to be more inclusive — not exclusive. So, we tried to frame things where we could have both types of work programs.

“That’s the concept we’ve moved forward with.”

On the regional make-up of the working group…

“I didn’t notice there were regional differences (between those in the working group) as it was more crop-based. Some of the crops have a work force that are more used to working under contract. Some of those that have been successful at using H2-A lean more towards contracts.”

On “ag card” employees being able to move between registered employers…

“The (workers) would be able to move at the end of jobs.

“Let’s say you and I are both registered employers and have employees picking strawberries. Well, the season is short. Once they’re through working your crop, if they want to come to my fields to pick, they can.

“That is a plus for the employee because it allows them more working hours. And in agriculture, sometimes your crop may be destroyed by weather. (The proposal) would allow the employee to move quickly to another registered employer and not be out of work.”

Anything else?

“I appreciate the (AFBF) for recognizing how important this issue is. They’ve put a lot of time and effort and put a lot of the right people together.

“Now, we’ve got something to move forward with. I’m looking forward to working on this over the next year.”

dbennett@farmpress.com