ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is asking the Labor and Agriculture Departments to accept and approve H-2A visa applications from dairy farmers offering temporary immigrant farmworker employment for up to 364 days in a 12-month period, which would align dairy with other livestock sectors and not require a change to current rules governing the program.
“The dairy sector, like the rest of American agriculture, is facing a labor crisis that has been ongoing for decades. The COVID-19 reality we are all trying to navigate has only exacerbated these challenges,” wrote NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern in a letter to the two departments dated April 9. “As more and more Americans have to remain home to care for children who are out of school or care for other loved ones, there are even fewer workers available to work on our nation’s farms. Our members – and all dairy employers – need increased access to the H-2A program to meet our workforce needs.”
Mulhern noted that granting dairy access to visas for a temporary position lasting up to 364 days in a 12-month period would provide dairy treatment equal to sheep and goat herders and not require a statutory or regulatory change. The letter also makes clear that hiring American workers before supplementing with H-2A continues to be the goal of farmers as well as a legal requirement of the H-2A program.
NMPF also thanked federal agencies for recognizing agriculture as critical infrastructure, which has helped keep dairies in operation during the coronavirus crisis.
“Preserving a vibrant dairy producer community in America is indeed essential for the health of rural and urban communities across the country and critical for continued access to wholesome, fresh, nutritious food,” Mulhern wrote. “The availability of workers to help with the daily milking of our cows is crucial – it must be done.”