Seasonal Visa Program for Agricultural Workers Doesn’t Cut it for Dairy Farms

Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, explains the dairy industry’s call for comprehensive immigration reform in a simple way: Milking cows isn’t a seasonal business.

At La Luna Dairy in Wellington. The dairy industry often struggles to find adequate workers.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

At La Luna Dairy in Wellington. The dairy industry often struggles to find adequate workers.

His industry has different needs compared to farmers who run fruit orchards or grow vegetables, and he says it’s hard to get lawmakers to understand.

“They’ve said, ‘If you need to bring in workers, just use the seasonal visa program.’ And we’ve said, ‘Milk production is not seasonal. It’s perennial. It’s every single day, two or three times a day,’” Galen said. “That’s why it’s been hard to get people to do that job, because it’s difficult.”

What’s most frustrating for dairy farmers, Galen says, is how close they were to a partial solution.

A comprehensive immigration bill, negotiated by the so-called Gang of Eight, which included Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Dick Durbin of Illinois, created a visa program for low skill agricultural workers. The measure passed the Senate in 2013, but failed to pass the House. Reform may be top priority for farm groups, but it isn’t for lawmakers right now.

“It’s going to be a challenge in this Congress because right now the focus is reacting to the White House executive action that took place late last year,” Galen said.

To see the immigration debate from the point of view of Colorado dairy owner Jon Slutsky click here.

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