dairy employee
June 16, 2016

Trump or Clinton, Immigration Hot Topic for Farmers

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

It’s no news that immigration is weighing heavily on politics right now and dairy farmers have expressed both support and fear of Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric regarding immigration. At the same time, many fear an increased cost of labor should Democratic presumptive nominee Hilary Clinton take up residency in the White House. This week Dairy Herd Management Editor Jim Dickrell and Chris Galen of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) joined “AgriTalk Radio” host Mike Adams to discuss immigration reform and how it could impact the dairy industry.

Trump Could Slow Milk Production

Trump has said he intends to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and deport all illegal workers. According to Galen, Trump following through on these campaign promises would be devastating to the food system. “Worst case scenario, if you were to round up everybody who is illegal in our food system it would shut it down,” he said. “It would be a disaster for dairy farming as well as the fruit and vegetable industry.”

Some dairy farmers disagree. One Washington dairy farmer wrote on the MILK Facebook page: “If you're knowingly hiring illegals, you're a poor business person. Doesn't matter who's in office for that problem.”

Asked another, on Twitter: “If a business has to break the law to survive, should it be in business?”

Despite competitive wages, Galen says dairy farmers aren’t able to find legal workers to labor on dairy farms. One farmer commented on the MILK Facebook page that he’s employed only “Americans” his whole career with no problem. Still, one-third of dairy farm employees are foreign-born workers, according to research conducted by NMPF and Texas A&M University. Galen says many of those employees don’t have proper documentation and work on larger farms, which produce roughly 80% of the nation’s milk supply. That’s what could trigger the rumored dairy shortages you’ve read about.

“If you’re going to deport everybody, you’re certainly going to have fewer cows milked and less milk production,” he said.

That’s something one Minnesota farmer mentioned on the MILK Facebook page wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing: “If the supply dries up, milk [price] will go up also. I could use that now.”

Will Trump Actually Build A Wall?

Nobody knows if Trump would follow through on his pledge to build a wall. If not, it wouldn’t be the first time a presidential hopeful failed to uphold promises made during the campaign. Several Trump supporters, who are dairy farmers, commented on the MILK Facebook page in support of Trump’s wall plan and think he will do it post haste. Galen says there’s a chance he won’t because Trump is a businessman, and it is possible, too, has unknowingly (or knowingly, for that matter) employed people to build his hotels who weren’t properly documented.

“He understands that as an employer, you don’t want somebody who has been with you many years to leave,” Galen said. “Regardless of who is elected, agriculture needs to figure out how to achieve an adequate labor source and this is a priority issue for NMPF.”

A Clinton Presidency

It could be easier to get a good immigration solution in place if Clinton is elected, according to Galen. However, Dickrell pointed out a Clinton presidency could mean increased labor expenses for dairy farmers at a time when they aren’t able to sustain them.

For dairy farmers, there’s no easy fix to the immigration problem; not even robots. “The reality is this is going to be an issue whether you’re milking cows or picking apples; you’re not going to get away from human labor,” Galen said.  

Listen to the audio below or download the MyFarmRadio App to listen on the go.