March 1, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- House Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Austin Scott (GA-08) yesterday expressed concern over changes to the H-2A program to American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall during the full committee hearing titled: Uncertainty, Inflation, Regulations: Challenges for American Agriculture.
“Mr. Duvall, we’re both from Georgia, and if you’re from Georgia, you not only hear about diesel prices and fuel prices, but you hear about H-2A a lot, especially with our specialty crop growers,” Scott said, “and I have heard consistently from farmers in my district as they’re trying to navigate all the changes and the uncertainty about the 14% wage rate increase that has occurred with regard with H-2A.”
The full exchange between Scott and Duvall can be watched here or read below:
Rep. Austin Scott: “Thank you. I now recognize myself for 5 minutes. Mr. Duvall, we’re both from Georgia, and if you’re from Georgia, you not only hear about diesel prices and fuel prices, but you hear about H-2A a lot, especially with our specialty crop growers and I have heard consistently from farmers in my district as they’re trying to navigate all the changes and the uncertainty about the 14% wage rate increase that has occurred with regard with H-2A.
Can you speak to Farm Bureau’s possession on all of the changes to H-2A, including the wage rate and additional transparency and how that rate is actually calculated?”
Duvall: “Sure, Congressman. The AWOR - the wage rate that is handed down to farmers that have to pay migrant workers that are coming through the H-2A program is done by a survey and we think that that wage rate formula is flawed, and we think we need to go back to the drawing board and look at how that wage rate is set. I mean, you ask any farmer how do they set that wage. They say they do it off some ‘kind of survey.’
‘Well, did you get that survey?’
‘No, I didn’t.’
So we don’t know what the survey is. Who gets it, and who fills it out. But we think it is very flawed. And if you look at a wage rate that - that climbs faster than inflation rate does there’s something wrong with that, and if you go to most of these places, most of these farms. Especially small medium-sized farms - those people that work there, whether they’re migrant workers or whether they’re other workers - they’re part of the family, and they’re taking care of those people, and they’re paying them a very, very fair wage, and expecting work out of them like we do our own family. So, it is important that we find a way that we have a stable workforce that we can bring people from other countries here, not fear the federal government, and be able to contribute to our society and work and have regulations that farmers and ranchers can actually abide by.
The regulation piece of that is so burdensome that a small or medium-sized farmer has a very difficult time being part of that. Where a large farm which is a very small percentage, might have an HR department to deal with all of that, but my farm with two employees, I couldn’t do that. So we need to find that way to do that, and we need year-round workers, and we don’t need to cap it because we don’t know how big the problem is.”
Scott: “Most of the farmers that I know, as you said, unless they’re extremely large farms- use a third party which is an additional expense, and it’s very complex. But the wage rate, it moved from $11.99 to $13.67 if I’m not mistaken, that’s correct. But housing, food, they’re a lot of other things that are paid for on top of the $13.67 an hour. Is that correct?
Duvall: “That is correct. You’ve gotta give them a place to live, the place to live is inspected - there’s all kind of regulations that goes around that. You gotta give them transportation - everything almost that you would do for a child you have to do for an H-2A worker.”
Scott: “One other thing I want to ask you about: the current reference prices with the regard to the commodities - seems to me that they weren’t set when diesel prices were as high as they are and fertilizer as high as it is. Could you speak to the need to increase the reference prices to reduce the risk to those that are actually out there planting the crops?”
Duvall: “I will. Actually, if you look at our organization, we’re looked at as a very conservative organization. Our voting delegates in Puerto Rico at our annual convention each year debated heavily whether or not to ask y’all to broaden the baseline. And of course, they came down to say; ‘yes, it is time to broaden the baseline because those targets that we use and the commodity programs and the costs that we have to go to growing a crop is nowhere near where it was when that target was set,’ Mr. Congressman. And it needs to be modernized and it needs to be a true safety net based on the cost of production today.”
Scott: “Thank you. I am extremely concerned about the increased risk with commodity prices where they are and having the potential to fall once you’ve paid for those inputs. They’re not going down. And so I do want to mention since it was brought up earlier, with regard to the ratios on the Farm Bill. My understanding with the CBO numbers is approximately 82% is now scheduled to go to nutrition according to the CBO, and that leaves 18% which gets split between conservation, crop insurance, commodities, and a couple of other things. So those ratios have changed, and they have changed significantly over the course of time.”