Agricultural labor solutions failed to get included in the year-end funding bill released Tuesday, leaving farm groups empty-handed in their search for action in this Congress. 

More than 200 farm groups, coops and agribusinesses sent a letter Monday to Senate leadership seeking action by the Senate on the Affordable and Secure Food Act before leaving town for the holidays.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he was hoping for a “Christmas miracle” when he introduced his agricultural workforce bill on Dec. 15. The industry letter implored the Senate to act on Bennet’s bill by the “end of the year to address the workforce crisis threatening farms across the United States.” The workforce crisis, the letter added, is “hindering agricultural production and contributing to food price inflation.”

The measure's omission from the omnibus spending package leaves it without a legislative vehicle to be signed into law before the end of the year. Bennet made a 25-minute speech on the Senate floor Monday evening again urging his colleagues to act on his bill

Over the weekend, language was added to Bennet’s bill to allow equine workers to qualify for H-2A status without the temporary or seasonal nature requirements in a bid. Adding that provision was intended to entice Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to back the bill.

Michael Marsh, National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) president and CEO, told Agri-Pulse his executive committee did endorse Bennet’s bill on Monday afternoon, but still had concerns about some potential disparate treatment for farm labor contractors that could affect smaller growers.

Marsh said it is “incumbent on agriculture to find a path forward,” noting some other agricultural groups — including the American Farm Bureau Federation — did not support Bennet's bill.

Marsh called the situation a “missed opportunity” for Congress to find a solution for agriculture’s workforce issues. He said Bennet and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, worked diligently to create a Senate companion to the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act. But ultimately, the legislative process — and several failed attempts to include broader immigration reform in the budget reconciliation packages advanced by Democrats — failed to produce an outcome that could be signed into law.

“Congress got distracted by maybe looking at some way we can just kind of shove it to pass,” Marsh said. The failure of that approach, he said, reflects the need to figure out a way for Democrats and Republicans to work together to solve the issue.  

But many groups supported the measure, including organizations with members who are frequent users of foreign-born agricultural labor.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said it was "truly disheartening to see Congress punt such a bipartisan, commonsense bill addressing the dysfunction in our immigration system."

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse!  

Western Growers Association President and CEO Dave Puglia said Bennet’s bill offered policymakers an opportunity to “effect good policy by coming towards the middle and solving a problem that's been intractable for a long time,” adding the current situation is only getting worse.

Puglia did not foreclose the possibility of Congress starting over in the next Congress. “It is not our preference. Obviously, we know that it will be more challenging with the Republican House,” Puglia said.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has ruled out considering immigration reform in the next Congress. 

Members of the Seasonal Employment Alliance (SEA) reported over the weekend they had negotiated within the ongoing omnibus negotiations a deal with various unions to increase the H2-B visa caps from 66,000 to 125,000. Meat processors were directly excluded from the higher cap, drawing the ire of the North American Meat Institute.

For more news, visit