Immigration Reform Faces Small Window of Opportunity

DairyBusiness Update’s Dave Natzke attended the National Dairy Producers Conference earlier this week in Indianapolis. Other than federal dairy policy and a farm bill, we asked Dave what else is on the minds of U.S. dairy cooperative leaders?

It’s estimated about 58% of U.S. dairy farm workers were born in a country other than the United States, so dairy has a big stake in the current immigration reform debate. And, due to the political nature of that debate, immigration reform faces a small window of opportunity in the 113th Congress, according to Kristi Boswell, with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Some key bipartisan congressional committees are expected to introduce immigration reform proposals this month. But, as we all know, agreement doesn’t come easy for this Congress, and Boswell warned dairy co-op leaders if there is no consensus by August, this latest opportunity to provide dairy with a legal, stable workforce may be lost.

National Milk’s Jamie Casteneda said research by Texas A&M University shows dairy farms with foreign-born workers produce about 70% of all milk in the United States. Through its membership in the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, National Milk is working with other groups to craft a plan that not only addresses the current dairy workforce, but helps develop a visa program to ensure an adequate dairy labor supply in the future.

Keeping foreign markets open for U.S. dairy products is also growing concern, according to Errico Auricchio, president of northeast Wisconsin cheesemaker Bel Gioioso Cheese. At the center of this issue are European Union efforts to erect trade barriers for U.S. dairy products with common names, such as parmesan and feta cheese. Through insistence on use of geographic indicators in its trade agreements with other countries, the European Union attempting to block U.S. manufacturers from using those common names when marketing their products abroad.

The fight goes well beyond cheese. Recently a British court ruled U.S. yogurt maker Chobani cannot market its product as “Greek” yogurt in England, because it isn’t produced in Greece.

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