Labor shortage is ‘nothing new’ for Idaho agriculture

A “broken” immigration system has been a challenge for agriculture for many years, the CEO of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association said.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Like many businesses, dairies and other farms in Idaho can’t find enough workers. The Idaho Dairymen’s Association said that was despite Idaho dairies offering about $15 an hour as the starting wage for an entry-level job with no experience required.

While other industries are currently experiencing labor shortages, IDA’s Rick Naerebout said this is nothing new for his industry.

“Honestly, we have had a labor shortage for several years now. We are very dependent on a foreign-born workforce. And our immigration system, as I think everyone recognizes, is broken, and we are continually short of workers who are able and willing to do the work that agriculture requires to harvest the food that you and I eat and appreciate every day,” Naerebout said.

Labor is one of the most important production costs in the dairy industry and in agriculture in general. So, Naerebout said, as agricultural employers continue to raise wages to try to attract workers, labor costs are eating up profits and affecting the prices you pay for your groceries.

“It’s not all the inflationary impact, but it’s one of those factors where we see food prices going up, because we have a lack of supply and food supplies are starting to get tight. , just because we don’t have the manpower to do the work to get the food to market,” Naerebout said. “And it’s going to continue to get worse, even though you see other things normalizing in our economy. If we don’t fix this labor issue, we’re going to continue to see price increases in the supermarkets on food.”

IDA and some members of the Idaho congressional delegation are trying to solve at least part of the “labour problem”. The Farm Labor Modernization Act would make changes to the current H-2A temporary worker program and give dairies access to a federal seasonal work visa program for the first time in history. Some undocumented immigrants who have previously worked could receive certified agricultural worker status under the legislation.

That bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), passed the U.S. House twice but stalled in the Senate. The most recent House roll call vote, from March 2021, shows Idaho Reps were split, with Simpson voting yes and Rep. Russ Fulcher voting no.

Naerebout said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) was helping negotiate in the Senate to try to get him across the finish line. They are going to make a big push here in the next two months. We’ll let you know how it goes.

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Michael A. Bynum