Agriculture is facing a perfect storm. And the way to avoid that storm is through immigration reform. That’s the message that MonteLake, presented to attendees at the National Agricultural Bankers conference last week in Las Vegas.

That perfect storm, explains Lake, a partner in the WashingtonD.C. law firm McGuiness Norris & Williams, is because currently agriculture faces these four problems:

  • An insufficient number of domestic U.S. workers who are willing and able to work in agriculture.
  • A current shortage of workers overall.
  • Shortages of legal workers.
  • Limitations on mechanical production and harvesting that require these jobs to be done by people.

Recent headlines help tell the story, says Lake. The labor shortage in agriculture led to fruits and vegetables left rotting in the fields this year which made headlines across the country. Add to that increased enforcement in certain parts of the country and many agricultural businesses have not been able to find enough people to harvest their crops, or for example, enforcement action at one New York dairy led to employees within a five county radius disappearing.

President Bush has understood the need for immigration reform from the beginning, says Lake. Both the House and Senate have passed immigration reform bills — but they are miles apart. The House bill is mostly an enforcement bill and the Senate bill has some enforcement provisions but also has a workable guest worker program called AgJOBS and includes a way for long-term workers to gain legal status.

What you can do  “When Congress reconvenes the first week of December we have a window of opportunity that they will address immigration reform,” says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Ag Coalition for Immigration Reform. “That means you need to reach out and tell your representatives that we need them to address immigration reform.”

Most congressional representatives return to their home states for the Thanksgiving holiday. That gives you a chance to make personal contact and tell them of the labor-shortage crisis in ag that threatens the survival of agribusiness in this country, says Regelbrugge. If you don’t live near their offices, a phone call or e-mail works just as well.

If you want Congress to act, you must contact your congressional representatives and tell them that agriculture needs immigration reform now. Two key points to cover are that immigration reform must contain a workable guest worker program such as AgJOBS, and there must be a way for long-time employees to gain legal status.

The National Coalition of Agricultural Employers has created a form letter you can use to contact your congressional representatives. The form is set up with key text already inserted, but has room for you to add your own message also. If you complete the form you can elect to have it e-mailed, or faxed to your congressional representatives. Or, you can use the key text sections to help you write your own letter. To access the letter, go to: http://capwiz.com/ncae/home/ Then in the Action Alert section click on the link for immigration reform.

Immigration reform must be solved before June 2007 when presidential politics will kick into high gear, says Lake. If it is not, it will be put on a back burner until after the election because immigration reform is a tough issue to address when running for office.