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NMPF report: Immigration reform needed to preserve dairy farms, protect consumers

Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants, and the damage from losing those workers would extend far beyond the farms, nearly doubling retail milk prices and costing the total U.S. economy more than $32 billion, according to a new report commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

The report, which includes the results of a nationwide survey of farms, found that one-third of all U.S. dairy farms employ foreign-born workers, and that those farms produce nearly 80% of the nation’s milk.

It concluded that a complete loss of immigrant labor could cause the loss of one in six dairy farms and cut U.S. economic output by $32.1 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Some 77,000 of the lost jobs would be on dairy farms.

Retail milk prices, the report said, would increase 90% if all immigrant labor was lost. That would drive the supermarket price of a gallon of milk, which averaged $3.37 in June, to approximately $6.40.

The survey, an update of one done in 2009, was conducted last fall, before immigration became a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign. A comparison of the two surveys shows the number of immigrants working on dairy farms increased by 35%, or nearly 20,000, in six years. The portion of the milk supply coming from farms with immigrant labor increased by 27%.

The survey results do not distinguish between documented and undocumented foreign-born workers, but 71% of survey respondents said they had either low or medium level of confidence in the employment documents of their immigrant workers. As a result, the report said, a majority of dairy farmers are very concerned about actions such as immigration raids or employee audits. Despite this, 80% of dairy farms surveyed continue to hire immigrants.

“This report reinforces the urgent need for Congress to address this issue,” said NMPF President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mulhern. “Farms that rely on hired foreign workers need their current labor force as well as an effective program to ensure an adequate future workforce. And the way to do that is to enact comprehensive immigration reform.”

“The notion that immigrants are taking these jobs away from American workers is simply not true,” added Randy Mooney, a dairy farmer from Rogersville, Missouri, and the chair of NMPF’s board. “Dairy farmers have tried desperately to get American workers to do these jobs with little success — and that’s despite an average wage that is well above the U.S. minimum wage.”

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