Loss of Immigrant Labor Would Cripple U.S. Dairy Industry, NMPF Survey Finds

June 3, 2009 07:00 PM

U.S. dairies rely so heavily on immigrant labor that eliminating just half of their foreign-born workforce would result in an economic loss of $11 billion nationwide, according to survey results released today by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).


The study, which surveyed more than 2,000 dairies in 47 states last fall, found that a 50% reduction of the dairy industry's immigrant labor would force 2,266 dairies to close, cut 670,000 cows from the U.S. herd size and decrease U.S. milk production by 14.7 billion pounds.


By replacing mostly anecdotal reports about foreign workers on U.S. dairies, the survey's findings should make a stronger case with policy makers about the need for national immigration reform, said NMPF President and CEO Jerry Kozak during a media phone briefing this morning.


"At a time of rising unemployment across America, our elected officials need to understand that the need for rational immigration reform is all the more imperative,” said Kozak. "Congress needs to act quickly to pass legislation such as the AgJobs bill, recently introduced in both the House and Senate. AgJobs is a step towards comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration laws, which is clearly needed.”


Kozak said NMPF is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of AgJobs, which aims to ensure a stable workforce for U.S. agriculture. The survey information will help counter those who believe immigration reform can be resolved by "just sending everybody back,” Kozak said.


Immigration reform will be a priority for NMPF this year, Kozak added.


The survey, entitled "The Economic Impacts of Immigration on U.S. Dairy Farms,” showed that of the 138,000 full-time-equivalent workers employed by U.S. dairies, 41% were foreigners, and 98% of those were from Mexico. The survey did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrant labor.


If federal labor and immigrant policies were to result in the loss of just half of the 57,000 foreign-born dairy workers, an additional 66,000 employees would also be lost due to closed-down dairies and the resulting multiplier effect of fewer jobs in related agricultural service jobs, according to Texas AgriLife Research, which worked with NMPF to conduct and analyze the survey.


The economic impact of losing immigrant labor indicates the need to look for ways to solve problems rather than eliminate labor, NMPF said.


"Punitive or unworkable labor policies may appear to be intended to help American-born workers, but what this survey found is that without access to immigrant workers, the economics of the entire dairy industry, as well as many rural communities and other industries, are negatively affected,” said Mike McCloskey, a dairy producer from Fair Oaks, Ind., and chair of NMPF's Immigration Task Force. "You can't extract immigrant workers out of the equation without creating a negative ripple effect that hurts many other workers as well.


"We need labor policies that will help us maintain our existing workforce, and ensure we have viable ways of obtaining workers in the future,” McCloskey added. "A failure by our lawmakers to act cannot be an option, because tens of thousands of workers are depending on us finding a way to address farm labor needs.”


The U.S. dairy industry generates $100 billion a year at the retail level and $35 billion at the farm gate, NMPF said.


 Among the survey's other findings:

·                     Sixty-two percent of the nation's milk supply comes from dairies that use immigrant labor.

·                     Dairy workers in 2008 earned an average of $31,500, based on an average wage of $10/hour and non-wage benefits, such as housing, vehicle use and insurance.

·                     Consumers would see a 30% increase in retail prices if U.S. dairies were to cut their immigrant work force by 50%.


Read the full survey at: http://www.nmpf.org/


Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at cmerlo@farmjournal.com.

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