Labor is a huge issue on dairy farms. As farmers struggle to find enough labor to meet their needs many are turning toward robotics to fill the void. Meanwhile others are pushing for immigration reform to rewrite the laws and allow immigrant workers to legally work in the industry.
In a study conducted last fall the National Milk Producer Federation found that half of the workers on dairy farms are immigrants. It also found that without those workers retail milk prices would double and one in four dairy farms would have to be shut down.
The reality is there aren’t enough workers willing to work on dairies and John Holevoet director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association says salary isn’t the issue.
He says the many on the outside look at the dairy industry and say ‘well you’re just not paying enough’.
“The fact is we’re paying well above the minimum wage,” he says, “in the double digits, $15 or $16 per hour on some farms, with housing providing. These are good family providing jobs and we still struggle filling them.”
Producers have made it a priority to keep employees. Wages and benefits are part of that puzzle according to Wisconsin dairy farmer Bob Nagel.
“It’s making sure they have a good wage. It’s making sure they have paid vacation. It’s making sure we buy health insurance for them,” he says.
Holevoet thinks the solution is to design a system where migrant workers could work on dairy farms legally. He says the Work Visa program doesn’t fit that bill.
“They [work visas] are really designed for migrant labor,” he explains, “people who are harvesting vegetables or other crops. That doesn’t work for dairy.”
Because cows have to be milked three times per day, every day of the year Holevoet thinks immigration reform is in order.
“We need some sort of reform or a new expansion on the worker visa,” he says.
For now, dairy farmers are making due with what they have even if that means installing robotics.
This story was originally reported by Betsy Jibben for “AgDay”. Watch her story below: