Dairy needs foreign workers, fair immigration policy

By Susan Harlow, Editor
Eastern DairyBusiness 

U.S. dairy, increasingly reliant on immigrant workers, could lose 2,266 farms and 14.7 billion lbs. of milk production annually if half its foreign-born workforce left the country due to federal  immigration policy. That’s according to a survey of the industry released by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Thursday.
    The survey found that two-thirds of the U.S. milk supply comes from farms employing immigrant labor. Dairies employ 138,000 full-time equivalent workers. Of those, 41% are foreign, almost all of them Mexican. 
   Loss of half those foreign workers would cost 66,000 jobs on farms, and with agribusiness suppliers and services. The economy would lose $6.7 billion in farm inputs alone; economic losses would total $11 billion. The retail price of milk would be driven up 31% as dairies went out of business.
    Most NMPF members name immigration as their top policy concern. NMPF plans to use its survey results to lobby lawmakers for immigration overhaul, particularly the recently introduced AgJOBS bill.
    “Dairy’s employment needs are inextricably tied to foreign-born workers,” said Jerry Kozak, NMPF president and CEO. “We want to counter people who say immigration reform is just sending everybody back home.“
  According to the survey, average annual compensation for dairy’s immigrant workers is $31,500, which includes an average $10 per hour salary and benefits, such as housing and food.
Texas AgriLife Research at Texas A&M University did the survey, asking 5,000 producers and receiving a response from a little more than 2,000.  Results of the survey are on the NMPF website at www.nmpf.org.