Jim Mulhern
March 13, 2017

Dairy Needs Stable, Secure Workforce

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Dairy farmers are willing to pay good money to the right people who want to work on dairy farms. Problem is, thanks to low unemployment and ongoing immigration reform, finding labor—even when pay is at the top of the wage scale—is easier said than done.

Solving the immigration quandary will require more than just more law enforcement, says Jim Mulhern, CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). It also takes a way for dairy farmers to have access to adequate amounts of legal workers.

“Because such a large volume of milk production depends on [immigrant labor], losing even just a portion of foreign-born undocumented workers would have serious implications for both farmers and consumers,” Mulhern says. He says a complete loss of immigrant labor in dairy farming would cut U.S. economic output by $32 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide, including jobs at companies farther down the food processing chain.

Mulhern says NMPF continues to work with elected officials on implementing a policy solution that adheres to two key principles:

  1. Providing an affordable and efficient guest worker program that ensures the continued availability of immigrant labor for all of agriculture, including dairies.
  2. Permitting those currently employed or with employment history in the U.S. to earn the right to work here legally, regardless of their current legal status.

“Our point to elected officials is that, as important as border security and interior law enforcement procedures are, such measures must be paired with a focus on current and future agricultural labor needs,” Mulhern says. “Creating a guest-worker program to bring in legal employees will allow federal and state governments to focus resources on removing bad actors from the U.S. and prevent the migration of others who are not coming here for legitimate work opportunities.”

Mulhern says NMPF will continue to push the message to the Trump administration and Congress that in order for American agriculture to thrive it needs a reliable workforce, and immigrant labor are an essential part of that picture today and into the future.