January 2, 2018

Labor Costs Hinge On Immigration Reform

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Next to feed expenses, labor costs make up the bulk of a dairy farm’s budget. Unfortunately there’s a good chance the cost of labor on your farm will increase next year. On January 1, farmers in many of the largest dairy states woke up to a higher minimum wage. In California, businesses with 26 or more employees will have to pay $11 per hour. In Washington, all businesses are required to pay $11.50 per hour. In New York, the minimum wage is now $10.40, an increase on its path to $15 by 2020. Farmers in the area are concerned about the lack of people to work, despite competitive pay.

“It’s a competitive pay. I think we’re just having trouble finding enough people to do it,” says Kendra Lamb, a dairy farmer in Oakfield, N.Y.

Throughout 2017 the dairy industry diligently worked to bring forward immigration reform that would work for dairies. Most are unable to use the H2A program because dairy farming is not seasonal.

“We have no access to H-2A here in dairy in New York. We have no options really to bring a foreign person in unless they have the documents that come through our federal system,” says Sarah Noble-Moag who works in dairy production operations in Pavilion, N.Y.

According to Tonya Van Slyke, executive director of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, New York is not the only dairy state with labor challenges and the industry needs a viable guest worker program.

President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have both said immigration reform that works for farmers is a high priority. However, dairy leaders have little hope a solution will be found soon.

“The only thing I believe that has a very good chance of passing will be DACA, but it will have to pass early in the year, or at least by March,” says Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives and Trade Policy for the National Milk Producers Federation.

Castaneda says Congressional action is likely early next year, but it must happen before the primary season begins for next year’s Congressional elections. If Congress does act on DACA this winter, there may be a window of opportunity for other immigration reform after the primaries next summer.

Agricultural immigration is first in line for reform, Castaneda says.

Minimum Wage Increases

[Effective January 1, 2018]


Arizona: $10.50 an hour


California: $11 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees; $10.50 an hour for businesses with 25 or fewer employees

Colorado: $10.20 an hour

Florida: $8.25 an hour

Hawaii: $10.10 an hour

Maine: $10 an hour

Michigan: $9.25 an hour

Minnesota: $9.65 an hour for businesses with annual gross revenue of $500,000 or more; $7.87 an hour for businesses with annual gross revenue of less than $500,000

Missouri: $7.85 an hour

Montana: $8.30 an hour

New Jersey: $8.60 an hour

New York: $10.40 New York state

Ohio: $8.30 an hour

Rhode Island: $10.10 an hour

South Dakota: $8.85 an hour

Vermont: $10.50 an hour

Washington state: $11.50 an hour