H2A Visas – Workers shortage could affect food prices

According to the Dairy Herd Migrant or foreign labor is a must for the dairy industry and other parts of agriculture, and a reduction in the workforce could cost consumers considerably. Labor and immigration are tied together, and it includes both legal and illegal immigration, says David Anderson, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station, Texas.

The value of milk production is $28.7 billion and this part of the dairy industry alone provides 147,000 jobs nationwide. If the related industries are added in, it is a $55 billion industry with 363,000 jobs. If you had a foreign labor reduction of only 20 percent, you would lose 33,000 employees, $5.5 billion in sales and $1.5 billion in income, Anderson explains. Total elimination would be a lot higher, he adds. Illegal immigrants make up 50 percent of agriculture’s workers.

About 20 percent of the dairy owners said they see labor shortages and are increasing wages to attract workers. Wages are higher where competing jobs are located. There is a vacuum of available workers, in part caused by the failure to pass immigration reform and the movement of penalties from civil to criminal.

With recent H2A Visa changes, it remains to be seen how employers will battle the difficulties in staffing much needed labor force for the milk production industry.

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