The crisis on the border might be dominating the headlines when it comes to immigration. It's an important aspect of the issue, no doubt, but it should not be our only focus when it comes to improving our broken system.
Ohio Agri-Women, a group dedicated to promoting and improving agriculture for the benefit of Ohioans and the world, has been very active on the issue of immigration reform as it relates to our industry. We have met with numerous Ohio elected officials in Washington to relay the difficulties our membership faces when it comes to labor and bureaucratic redtape.
Our members are family farmers from across the state. We are made up of fruit growers, nursery owners and livestock operators, almost all of whom work in labor-intensive parts of the industry. As an increasing number of young adults leave their family farm communities to pursue higher education and other opportunities, there are fewer and fewer workers left to tend to the fields.
The agriculture guest worker visa program offered by the federal government makes hiring immigrants impractical. At more than $2,000 per application, the guest worker program is cost-prohibitive for many small to mid-sized farmers.
The paperwork is quite daunting and the number of visas available is quite low. Farm owners want to be able to hire the same workers year after year because those workers get to know the scope of the farms' operations. Yet, that is not easy with the paperwork involved.
The government also should allow more flexibility for worker arrival and departure, rather than unworkable dates set in stone. Contrary to its own perception, the federal government doesn't control the weather. Planting and harvest times fluctuate due to weather conditions. Requiring H2-A workers to arrive at certain designated dates negatively affects production.
The consequences of allowing more time to pass before implementing reform are notable. More food will be grown overseas. It's already happening.
A report from the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform found that from 1998 to 2012, a period when American consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables rose significantly, the fresh fruit grown in America increased only slightly and our production of fresh vegetables actually declined - forcing U.S. shoppers to rely more on imported fresh foods. The same study found more than a quarter of the U.S. grower domestic market share decline could be attributed to labor shortages.
Our current immigration system is outdated and fails to support a 21st century American economy. The time for action is now. Join us in calling on the Congressional delegation to strengthen the Ohio economy by fighting for a meaningful immigration reform.
Rachael Vonderhaar is vice president of Ohio Agri-Women and a family farmer from Camden.