Movement to a legal work force

It appears that we finally have some folks in the country who are ready to get serious about addressing illegal immigration and particularly its effects on food production from farm to fork.

Recently I did an interview for radio with Congressman Robert Goodlatte, R-VA, about real immigration reform. He has introduced the AG Act as part of the immigration reform measures the Trump administration is pushing for.

First of all, I am not sure how many folks are up to speed on the current H2A program. I have an advantage in that regard because I have had sheep rancher Hank Vogler from Nevada on Rural Route Radio every Monday for the past 15 years. Vogler has been a long time participant in the H2A program that is supposed to be a legal guest worker program. He currently has five fewer employees than he has had for many years because of regulations. Anyone who listens to Vogler understands this system is really broken.

I believe it is also worth noting that few farmers and ranchers actually use the program because it is a maze of regulations that simply make it prohibitive. To give you a quick glimpse of the challenges, Vogler will spend about $4,000 per worker just getting them from the foreign country to his place legally. Once the worker arrives, the contract determines his job.

For example, if the contract states “range sheep herder” then he is not allowed to work the sheep once the sheep enter the corral. The worker is also not allowed to fix a fence or do any other job related to sheep rearing. In addition, since the Obama years, the number of on-ranch inspections has skyrocketed. This program has been administered by the Department of Labor.

Despite my ability to go on and on about the problems with the current program, I want to share the Goodlatte proposal and solutions. First and most important in my mind is that Goodlatte proposes that this program be moved from the Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I will not pretend that all USDA employees understand farm experiences but compared to the Chicago-based Department of Labor bureaucrats, this is a win-win for all.

The Goodlatte proposal, referred to as the H2C program, also has a tie to the minimum wage of the state the operation is in rather than a flat $15 per hour as the H2A program recently switched to. The demands on transportation and housing with the H2C program would also be much more user-friendly. In addition, the packing plants and processing facilities would be able to utilize the guest worker program much more simply. This will pave the way to create a stronger worker base with a path to legal status that we desperately need at this time.

I obviously correlate most of my thoughts about this in the livestock sector of food production but I believe most people realize that West Coast fruit, nut and vegetable growers have had significant losses in the past few years because of farm products that did not get harvested simply because of the lack of workers. I am not sure what could be much worse than watching your crop go to waste because you can’t get it out of the field.

I applaud Congressman Goodlatte and his drive to find a solution for this costly problem that exists in American agriculture. It is worth mentioning that all of these programs do give first preference to local workers over immigrants from another country, but the truth is that the work force here in the good ole United States has it too easy. They are not willing to work and the folks that come in from Peru, Mexico and South Africa are hungry and have the drive to show up, put in a hard days labor and get paid a fair price for job well done.

For far too long we have been not talking about this situation and just going down the same path hoping to have enough people show up to get the cows milked. Finally I see an avenue opening up where we can have a legal, willing work force to feed and clothe the American consumers and harvest the bounty of our toil.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].