The following remarks were made by USApple President & CEO Jim Bair today at a press conference on Capitol Hill. Bair joined other agriculture industry leaders, congressional members and farmers from across the nation urging the Senate to act immediately on labor reform legislation. More than 150 farmers, farm leaders and farm business owners are in Washington, D.C. the next two days meeting with lawmakers urging their support.
Remarks by Jim Bair, President & CEO
U.S. Apple Association
November 16, 2022
“Agriculture labor reform has been the U.S. Apple Association’s top legislative priority for more than a decade. It is the issue that keeps apple growers awake at night whether they employ 500 workers or 50. A grower can invest an entire year of care and expensive input costs, but if it’s harvest time and workers are not available or arrive late, the crop can be lost.
“Increasingly, apple growers have turned to the H-2A guestworker program, and today, apples are probably the largest single commodity user of the program. But workers are often delayed due to administrative red tape and the costs associated with the program have outpaced inflation for decades.
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has passed the House twice with bi-partisan support. It would bring the needed stability and predictability to the agriculture labor market as a whole and specifically to the H-2A program. Growers would be able to plan for the next year, knowing what their labor costs would be, instead of scrambling when they learn the H-2A wage rate is going up by 10% or more with only a couple of month’s notice.
“Attention must now turn to the Senate. I want to acknowledge and thank Senators Mike Bennett and Mike Crapo for their willingness to take on this critical issue. We’re calling on the Senate leadership to bring up a companion bill for the sake of food security and the economic viability of our rural communities.
“The past few years have created a perfect storm as supply chain issues, inflation and lost export markets make the strain even greater. Growers in my industry are having to make tough decisions and determine if they can hang on another year, if they can continue to produce America’s favorite fruit or if what has been a livelihood for three or four generations stops with them.”