As any pork producer will tell you, there is no pork season. U.S. pork production is a seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year effort. It requires a hardworking and dedicated workforce on our farms and in processing plants. Unfortunately, we are suffering from a significant labor shortage that, if not addressed, will constrain pork production and lead to serious challenges in our food supply chain, including increased consumer prices and food insecurity.
As U.S. pork producers virtually meet with members of Congress this week during the National Pork Producers Council’s spring Legislative Action Conference, meaningful labor reform is a top priority.
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.). Among other provisions, the bill would amend the H-2A program to allow a capped number of visas for farmworkers to work year-round. Today, the pork industry cannot use the H-2A program for most labor needs because of its seasonal limitation.
On my farms and throughout the pork supply chain, we offer jobs with good pay and benefits, but most Americans do not live near our hog farms or harvest facilities and rural populations continue to decline, causing us to be largely dependent on foreign-born workers. We’re proud of the diversity on our farms and across the pork production chain. For many foreign-born workers, a position in the U.S. pork industry has often created opportunity to come to the country and become an integral part of a community.
Unfortunately, current visa programs fail to address the workforce needs of U.S. pork produces and other year-round livestock farmers. This isn’t an isolated case affecting a handful of farms and processing plants; this is an industry-wide shortage that needs to be quickly addressed. As U.S. pork producers virtually meet with lawmakers this week, we will be sharing this message and the importance for a prompt resolution.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a good step to jumpstart this critical conversation, and NPPC looks forward to working with Congress to both open the H-2A program to year-round labor without a cap and provide legal status for agricultural workers already in the country.
Expanding the H-2A visa program to year-round labor will help ensure that U.S. livestock agriculture can compete globally and continue to provide safe and affordable pork to Americans and consumers worldwide.
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Terry Wolters is president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council and a hog farmer from Pipestone, Minn. He owns Stoney Creek Farms, where he has ownership in several sow farms and is a partner in Pipestone System. He operates a farrow-to-wean enterprise, marketing 28,000 hogs per year, manages a 2,400 head research finisher, along with farming corn and soybeans. Wolters is also a member of Wholestone Farms.