Farm labor and food security roundtable at the fair

Courtesy Photo Scott VanderWal, center, South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation President and American Farm Bureau Federation Vice President addresses the crowd at the Pork Producers VIP Tent at the South Dakota State Fair Friday.

HURON — Friday morning, in the Pork Producers VIP Tent at the South Dakota State Fair, the American Business Immigration Coalition Action (ABIC Action), the South Dakota Dairy Producers, the South Dakota Farm Bureau, the Edge Dairy Cooperative, the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, AmericanHort, the South Dakota Association of Cooperatives, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the International Fresh Produce Association held a press event and roundtable entitled “Lower Food Prices, Keep Shelves Stocked: Common Sense Solutions to South Dakota’s Farm Labor Shortage.”

With Senate negotiations ongoing, the event, featuring signs reading “Keep Shelves Stocked” and “Lower Food Prices,” called attention to the urgency of fixing South Dakota’s and the nation’s farm labor shortage by passing new Senate agriculture workforce solutions with a clear message: Food security is national security. 

“Agricultural workforce modernization is a very important priority for the Farm Bureau,” said Scott VanderWal, President of the Board, South Dakota Farm Bureau and Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Workplace shortages have been one of the greatest limiting factors for growth in U.S. agriculture. This is an urgent issue that needs a real solution and the American Farm Bureau implores the Senate to continue conversations and put together a bill that would work for everyone.”

Said Marv Post, Board Chair, South Dakota Dairy Producers: “This work is very labor-intensive and we need more workers. That will provide not only economic opportunities throughout the state and the nation, but will also give us food security—food on those shelves that we know was lacking and hurting us during so much of the pandemic. More workers is something we’ve been asking for now, for many years. We need to have that labor security.”

The roundtable took place at the start of Labor Day weekend, when many American families may find that they have to cut back or cancel altogether the traditional end-of-summer cookout due to soaring food prices. Last week, the USDA predicted that food prices will continue to rise up to 9.5% in 2022 despite a decline in inflation, with grocery-store food predicted to rise up to 11%. Egg prices will continue to rise, to a growth range of up to 25.5%, with meat, poultry, and fish costs expected to rise up to 10.5%, and fruits and vegetables to rise up to 8%. Sugars, sweets, and nonalcoholic beverages also saw increases in forecasts.

According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants make up 7% of all workers in farming, fishing and forestry in South Dakota — and their labor is strongly linked to food prices. On the national level, Texas A&M International University recently released data from a new economic study on the link between stabilizing the agricultural workforce and decreasing inflation and consumer prices, showing that ensuring farmers have a stable, secure, reliable, and legal workforce is crucial to keeping America’s grocery shelves stocked, combating inflation, and lowering food prices (including milk, eggs, meat, and produce) for all domestic consumers.

Addressing workforce shortages facing farm employers and stabilizing the H-2A visa application process is also crucial for enhancing national food security by protecting domestic agriculture production. According to the USDA, next year, for the first time in U.S. history, the United States will be importing more agricultural goods than exporting.

Said Greg Feenstra, Vice President, South Dakota Pork Producers Council: “The pork industry suffers from a labor shortage. We can automate some things but not everything. We still need people. It’s critical that we increase our workforce. We have to work with our legislators and other commodity groups to find a solution that can propel us into the future.”

Also speaking was ABIC Action Intermountain State Director Enrique Sanchez, who said: “A nation that cannot feed itself is not secure. We don’t want to rely on other countries to grow our food. In 2019 and 2021, the House of Reps. passed the FWMA with bipartisan support. Now it’s time for the Senate to do its job. I’m a DACA recipient and the child of former farm workers. Due to his status, my father was unable to travel back to Mexico while working in the fields of California to be with my mother during my birth. But the opportunity of being here in the U.S. allowed me to attend school and then college. Farm workers want nothing more than to pursue the American dream.”

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