Jake Harward, a Springville farmer, has a hard time finding help to plant, tend and harvest his crops and says the need for immigration reform is urgent.
“The argument that we’re taking jobs away from others just doesn’t fly in my mind,” Harward said Monday during a discussion involving representatives of agriculture, restaurants, manufacturers and congressional staffers.
Harward said despite lots of advertising and above-minimum wages, U.S. workers are simply not interested in working on farms — including in his fields of sweet corn, pumpkin and other crops.
Participants in the “farm-to-fork” discussion to raise awareness of the need for immigration reform said one problem is the current H-2A Visa Program for farm and ranch workers. They complain it is costly, bureaucratic and too complicated, a Utah Farm Bureau spokesman said.
Immigrant farmworkers arrive at their job sites an average of 22 days late because of bureaucratic delays, translating to $320 million in lost revenue nationally, according to a survey by the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
Regulatory issues hampering the immigrant workforce affect all aspects of the food industry, increasing costs and limiting production, said Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association.
“Immigrants flock to the restaurant industry because it represents a uniquely powerful option for economic advancement,” Sine said. “But without meaningful immigration reform, this industry — and many others — simply can’t continue to contribute to the economy as it does today.”
Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, also acknowledged the key role played my immigrant workers. He cited the statistic that each of the 1.6 million hired farmworkers in the United States supports up to three full-time jobs involved in food processing, transportation, agriculture equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors.