Jan 24, 2024
Letter to appropriations committees expresses AEWR concerns

A letter signed by 75 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent to the House and Senate appropriations committees expresses concerns about the rising wage rate in the H-2A program.

The rate, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), is at an average of about $17.55, although the rate varies on a regional basis.

The letter, which is available to read online (.pdf), originated with Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.)

Asparagus growers are among those who have switched their crops or exited farming altogether in Michigan due to the skyrocketing Adverse Effect Wage Rate and the challenges they face with labor. File photo courtesy of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“While more permanent solutions are needed to address the AEWR’s past impact and its future trajectory, we request that an upcoming government funding vehicle prohibit funds from being used to implement a wage increase or otherwise freeze the H-2A wage rates at January 2023 levels,” according to the letter, dated Jan. 11 and addressed to Sens. Patty Murray and Susan Collins and Reps. Kay Granger and Rosa DeLauro.

The national AEWR average has more than doubled over the past 20 years, “making agricultural guest labor unaffordable for farm employers and resulting in higher consumer costs,” according to the letter.

According to the letter, Canadian employers pay closer to $11 an hour for farmworkers, and the rate is about $1.50 an hour in Mexico.

“This uneven playing field greatly disadvantages our domestic producers,” according to the letter. “For farmers and ranchers who use H-2A, the skyrocketing AEWR will only compound inflated input costs like energy and fertilizer, other guest worker expenses like transportation and housing, and burdens from several impending federal regulations and fees.”

According to the letter, specialty crop growers, which already spend nearly 40% of total cash expenses on labor, will be the hardest hit.

“If we do nothing, many of our constituents will be forced shutter their
businesses, despite good-faith efforts to ensure our national food security and feed families across our nation,” according to the letter.

In a news release, Huizenga also included quotes from the heads of farming and specialty crop organizations:

Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president

“Members of Congress have a unique and timely opportunity to help America’s farmers and their employees keep producing safe and nutritious food. We are in the midst of a worsening labor crisis on the family farm. In the absence of true reforms to modernize an outdated system, congressional leaders should deliver this short-term relief immediately. Farmers appreciate the lawmakers who are addressing the needs of their agricultural constituents.”

Cathy Burns, International Fresh Produce Association CEO

Cathy Burns

“The fresh produce supply chain cannot survive, let alone thrive, under the constant barrage of regulatory burdens and cost increases imposed on our industry. This bipartisan effort led by Rep. Huizenga to provide much needed meaningful relief as Congress seeks broader reforms is exactly what our industry needs right now. Absent a comprehensive solution to agricultural workforce challenges, Congress must act immediately to provide wage relief to producers before we lose more farms in America.”

Carl Bednarski, Michigan Farm Bureau president and farmer

“Michigan farmers are at a crossroads — we are stuck with an unrealistic and unpredictable wage rate structure that is forcing many to think twice about growing fruits and vegetables in our state. Michigan Farm Bureau is incredibly grateful to Congressman Huizenga and the bipartisan group of his colleagues for their leadership on this critical issue. They understand the dire situation Michigan farmers face as a result of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate and are working to find commonsense solutions that keep farmers in business and U.S. grown fruits, vegetables and other foods available on the store shelves for all our consumers.”

Jim Bair, U.S. Apple Association president and CEO 

“The U.S. Apple Association thanks Representative Huizenga for leading this bipartisan effort to bring stability and relief for growers throughout the nation. The cost of growing apples increased 65% in three years, and the main culprit is the cost of labor.  Nearly all apples are grown by multi-generational family farms and they cannot sustain another year of these cost increases. We call on the Congress to enact this freeze and pass common-sense reforms to the H-2A program.”

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