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December 15, 2008 - 11:45am

Immigrant labor reform is a high priority for incoming Farm Bureau president

posted by Philip Anselmo in Daily News, farms, agriculture.

New York's new Farm Bureau President, Dean Norton, of Batavia, will be heading to San Antonio next month for the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, according to the Daily News. Once there, Norton, along with some 5,000 other farm bureau members from across the nation, will attend more than a dozen conferences on issues related to the industry, including

sessions on the turbulent global economy and how it relates to U.S. agriculture, the urgent need for livestock producers to become activists, the continuing debate over biofuels, crop and livestock outlooks for 2009, and much more.

(This information was available in a news release issued by the AFB that can be accessed via the group's Web site.)

Immigration reform will likely take top priority for Norton as he settles in. Tom Rivers writes:

Norton expects immigration reform -- setting a policy that would significantly boost legal farmworkers in agriculture -- to be at the top of the Farm Bureau priority list at the state and national levels.

"It's a safe bet to say that immigration will be a big one (on the agendas)," Norton said by phone Sunday from Washington.

Rivers also cites a survey put together by a pair of Cornell University researchers, in which some 1,200 state farms were questioned on the importance of immigration reform.

From that survey:

Many farm managers are concerned about labor supply. They feel that immigration reform is an urgent public issue and very important to their business. While the survey did not inquire about managers’ responses to the current immigration environment, ongoing informal feedback from farm managers and the organizations that represent them reveal a number of emerging trends and responses. As a result of increasing controversy over immigration reform as well as increased immigration enforcement activities, farm managers are beginning to make decisions they would not have made several years ago.

Farm managers told the researchers that they want to be more involved in the policy making process. "Agricultural employers are aware that their voice is often overshadowed by the large number of non-farm voters concerned about immigration reform," said researchers.

Some are concerned that many farms are "holding off expansion plans until they are more certain that they can acquire the workforce necessary for larger agricultural operations." In other words, uncertainty regarding the stability and constancy of the labor pool is causing farms to stunt their own growth. Farms are also doing all they can to reduce the visibility of immigrant laborers in the community in an attempt to avoid detention and deportation.

One potential solution offered by those surveyed involves searching for alternative labor pools. Some farm managers are even "reluctantly considering recruiting local workers, but they expect that the work ethic and work performance will be below that of the current Hispanic workers."

You can download the complete survey here. Also, be sure to check out the piece in today's Daily News by Tom Rivers.

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