The United States is facing severe labor shortages in its agriculture, meatpacking, and poultry industries. In response to the problem, Iowa State Farms, one of the state’s largest pork producers, is pressuring U.S. Senators to allow for a year-round flow of immigrant workers. In a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Iowa State Farms requested more laborers, stating that current employment numbers are inadequate to meet the industry’s requirements.
Shortage of Labor in Meatpacking, Poultry, and Agriculture Industry
The New Mexico Chile Association trade group said that their industry is short about 1,350 seasonal laborers of the 3,000 needed. The labor shortage in the farming sector is reflected in the poultry sector as well.
There is no doubt that farmers and meatpacking plants are facing severe labor shortages. Usually, immigrants are hired to make up for those shortages. “If the labor shortage is not addressed, it could lead to farms and packing plants shutting down, causing serious financial harm to the communities in which they operate,” said spokeswoman Jen Sorenson, who is also a president of the National Pork Producers Council.
Actions Taken for Year-Round Immigrant Workers
On July 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, was which was passed in March 2021. This Act will provide a pathway to legalization.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, testified at the hearing. Sen. Grassley said, “It’s not a seasonal business like maybe California, Arizona, and Texas … and I hear from farmers and businesses who just can’t find the people to work.”
Sorenson praised the legislation’s call for year-round H-2A visas. She urged lawmakers to lift its cap on the number of those visas because the labor shortage far exceeds the number of visas allowed under the cap. That would force producers to “compete against one another for the same limited number of year-round visas.”
The National Pork Producers Council is pushing federal lawmakers to increase the limit on the H-2A visa program so the migrant workers can remain longer.
Unemployment Benefits a Reason for Labor Shortages
Some Republican state legislators alleged that the primary reason for the labor scarcity is the supplemental unemployment benefits. Since the rate of unemployment benefits is higher, it disincentivizes the workers, because it pays more than the low-hourly wage rate jobs.
Rachel Gantz, a spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council, said her team will continue to press Congress for change.
However, these industries make huge contributions to the economy. Vilsack, through written testimony to the committee, said that the food and agriculture industries contribute nearly one-fifth of the country’s economic activity.