Farm Bureau: Changes to labor program could be part of solution
» February 6, 2008 «
Proposed changes to a federal temporary-worker program could help California farmers, but the state's largest farm organization says the proposals would be only a partial solution to meet labor needs on farms and ranches.
The Bush administration announced a series of proposed changes to the existing H-2A program, which allows people from other countries to enter the United States temporarily to work on farms. Very few California farmers now use the program, in part because it lacks the flexibility to serve the needs of fast-moving fruit and vegetable harvests, during which farm employees often move from farm to farm and crop to crop.
"We welcome any reforms that will help family farmers hire people who are legally able to work in the United States," California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar said. "We'll carefully review the proposals the administration released today, to see how they'll affect family farmers and ranchers."
Although encouraged by the administration's actions, Mosebar said reforming the H-2A program, by itself, won't solve the problem.
"Uncertainty about meeting labor needs is already forcing California farmers to switch crops and make other permanent changes to their businesses," he said. "Even with the proposed changes, the H-2A program will still have many of the problems that have made it unworkable for our diverse agriculture. For the program to work in California, it must be much more flexible and efficient."
At the peak of harvest, California farms employ as many as 450,000 people, of whom only about 5,000 enter the country through the H-2A program. Mosebar said family farmers and ranchers will continue to press for fundamental changes in federal immigration laws.
"This is a big problem that needs to be attacked both through changes in regulations and changes in the law," he said. "Congress needs to pass the AgJOBS bill. It has won support from farmers, labor unions and politicians of both parties. An effective temporary-worker program will contribute to a secure border and a safe, stable, domestic food supply for the United States."
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 91,000 members statewide.
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