Labor shortages continue to affect the agriculture industry – and one of Indiana’s ag organizations is pushing federal lawmakers to pass a bill that could help with the problem.
“We just plain and simple don’t have enough workers to do all the work we have to do here in Indiana,” says Rebecca Joniskan, President of the Indiana State Poultry Association.
Farm operations hiring temporary workers from other countries can only use those workers for several months out of the year. While that may work for jobs at fruit and vegetable farms, the livestock industry is trying to get legislation passed that would allow those workers to stay on the job year-round.
“As the pandemic laid bare the vulnerability of our food supply chain, we are definitely a 365-day-a-year industry,” says Joniskan. “We are not seasonal like some other sectors of agriculture and seeking some long-term reliable solutions.
To try and solve that problem, the U.S. House in March 2021 passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would modify the current work visa program. Joniskan and others in the ag industry are now asking lawmakers in the U.S. Senate, including Indiana Senators Todd Young and Mike Braun, to pass the bill.
Joniskan says having a consistent ag workforce would also help the poultry industry to contain the spread of diseases and viruses like the recent spread of avian flu, which had been found on six commercial turkey farms in southern Indiana and three commercial duck farms in northern Indiana. That led to the depopulation of more than 171,000 turkeys and 17,000 ducks to contain the spread of the virus.
“We need workers [who] understand how to care for animals,” Joniskan says. “[It’s] absolutely essential to disease prevention and response that we have workers that are well trained and committed to employing biosecurity measures every day all the time.”
Most of all, Johniskan says employment turnover can affect a farmer’s bottom line, which can also affect the price for meat, milk and eggs at the grocery store. It can also cause prolonged supply chain disruptions.
“We want to make sure that when our turkeys, ducks, chickens and eggs are ready, those products are on the menu [and] they’re in the grocer’s case for people to be able to pick up and take home,” says Joniskan. “That’s just not possible if we don’t have the workers there to do the processing and also all the workers that are important to have within our logistics and delivery chains as well.”
Click BELOW to hear C.J. Miller’s news report on the Indiana State Poultry Association’s push for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
Click BELOW to watch a roundtable video hosted by Indiana Farm Bureau and the American Business Immigration Coalition featuring other Indiana ag leaders, including Indiana State Poultry Association President Rebecca Joniskan, discussing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and addressing the ag industry’s labor shortage:
Indiana State Poultry Association Pushing Farm Worker Reform Bill