The Agricultural Guestworker Act Gaining Ground

In October, the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 (House Resolution 4092), introduced by U.S. Rep. John Goodlatte (R-Va.), was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the full House. Michigan’s lone representative on the committee, Rep. John Conyers (D), voted against it.

John Kran, national lobbyist with Michigan Farm Bureau, commented that “any farmer who’s dealt with this issue will tell you that the availability of domestic workers continues to decrease. This bill not only deals with the seasonal workforce, but the need for year-round ag workers.” The need for such legislation is clear, at least to farmers. Currently, the only way farmers can have the peace of mind about a legal workforce is to go through the H-2A program, which is so notorious for burdensome paperwork, long lead times and woefully complicated processes that Michigan Farm Bureau established the Great Lakes Agricultural Labor Services (GLALS) to help farmers successfully navigate the process.

Goodlatte’s legislation would create a new H program, called H-2C, under which a new guest-worker program would be established, allowing farmers to hire workers for up to 18 months for seasonal labor and 36 months for year-round labor, such as are needed on dairy farms, other livestock operations, and food processing, including meat packing. “Michigan dairies have a huge need for the longer visa, and poultry and hog operations have trouble finding people too,” Kran said. “The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a good place to start.” Among the things Farm Bureau would like to see changed in the bill is a mandatory limit on the number of workers allowed in. The bill proposes that the number be capped at 450,000 per year, with an ‘escalator’ for additional need.


© 2017 Varnum LLP
This post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of Varnum LLP.
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President Trump Signs the “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act”

President Trump recently signed the “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act” (H.R. 1238). The bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to carry out a program to coordinate DHS efforts related to defending the food, agriculture and veterinary systems of the United States against terrorism and other high-consequence events that pose a high risk to homeland security.

According to Michigan Farm News, the law will:

  • Provide oversight and management of DHS’s responsibilities pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 – Defense of United States Agriculture and Food;
  • Provide oversight and integration of DHS activities related to veterinary public health, food defense and agricultural security;
  • Lead DHS policy initiatives related to food, animal and agricultural incidents and to overall domestic preparedness for, and collective response to, agricultural terrorism;
  • Coordinate with other DHS components on activities related to food and agriculture security and screening procedures for domestic and imported products; and
  • Coordinate with appropriate federal departments and agencies.
This post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of  Varnum LLP© 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

USDA Announces $15.1 Million In Grants For Bioenergy and Bioproducts

On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 34 grants totaling $15.1 million for research on renewable energy, biobased products, and agroecosystems.  The grants, which are funded through the agency’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), are expected to help develop the next generation of renewable energy, bioproducts, and biomaterials; protect the ecosystems that support agriculture; and improve the agricultural systems and processes that help feed the nation.

The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on cover crop systems for biofuel production:

  • USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received $494,000 for the development of lupin, cereal rye, and carinata winter cover crops for biomass in the southern coastal plain;
  • Purdue University received $498,000 for the development of cover cropping for the development of sustainable co-production of bioenergy, food, feed (BFF) and ecosystem services (ES);
  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $498,378 for the development of perennial cover crop systems for maize grain and biomass production;
  • Louisiana State University Agricultural Center received $387,000 to study the feedstock production potential of energy cane-sweet sorghum rotation with a winter cover crop system; and
  • University of Nebraska received $500,000 to assess innovative strategies to maximize cover crop yields for biofuel across a precipitation gradient.​​​

The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on the socioeconomic implications and public policy challenges of bioenergy and bioproducts market development and expansion:

  • Auburn University received $499,886 to identify the economic barriers to biomass production, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in stimulating biomass market expansion, and to explore the economic and ecosystem service implications of biomass production;
  • Colorado State University received $499,000 to produce a unified atlas of marginal lands in the U.S., and provide insight on the costs, potential environmental benefits, and overall practical likelihood of using those lands for biomass feedstock production;
  • Purdue University received $492,099 to develop a dynamic theoretical model on rejuvenating coal-power plants with biomass;
  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $499,622 to provide an integrated model-based assessment of the socioeconomic, policy, and market implications of sustainable bioenergy derived from cellulosic biomass; and
  • University of Missouri received $498,441 to evaluate impacts on forest resources surrounding power plants using woody biomass, assess economic impacts of wood biopower systems, and quantify tradeoffs between cost, carbon reductions, and renewable energy generation obtained by the increased use of wood biopower.

More information on the grants is available at the NIFA website.

This post was written by Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D. of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

Read more legal analysis at the National Law Review.

Proposed Bill Would Create Safeguards Against Agricultural Worker Deportation

In early May, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act (AWPA), a piece of legislation that will provide undocumented workers with heightened protection from deportation and aid them in obtaining legal status and citizenship. Specifically, the AWPA allows farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least one hundred (100) days of the past two years to earn lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain this “blue card” status for five years may then become eligible to adjust to permanent residency or to a “green card” status. In a press release, Feinstein stated, “By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill achieves two goals – ensuring that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to thrive.” Bennet remarked that, “The failure to fix our broken immigration system has had real economic consequences for our farmers and ranchers. This bill serves as a necessary step until we can enact a long-term solution by passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

Advocates for the bill include Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers (UFW) President, stating that “the United Farm Workers strongly supports and cheers Senator Feinstein’s introduction of the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 because the act recognizes that the people who feed our nation should be able to earn the opportunity to gain legal status.” Nonetheless, others remain less optimistic for the Act, and project that the Act is unlikely to be passed under the Trump administration. The Colorado Springs Gazette remarked that the bill “has virtually no chance of becoming law, however, with President Trump in the White House and his fellow Republicans in charge of the House and Senate.” The complete text of the bill is available on Feinstein’s website.

This post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of Varnum Law.

Farming Remains One of the Most Dangerous Professions According to Safety Data

Farmers represent a small portion of our population, but feed the entire country and most of the world. Despite advances in agricultural technology, however, farming remains one of the most dangerous occupations. To exacerbate matters, the injury of a farmer often hurts his or her entire family, as entire families often work together and feel the pain when one of their loved ones is unable to contribute and must be cared for by the others. It is for this reason that they must be extremely mindful of safety and constantly devising safer ways of accomplishing their goals.

Over Two Million Workers are employed on Farms Each Year

According to NIOSH, over 1.8 million people are employed full-time in the agricultural field every year, with over 200,000 part time workers. Many of these workers are under the age of 20 and working for their families’ farms. Of these workers, there are a recorded 374 deaths per year on average due to agricultural related injuries, with the most common cause of death being tractor overturns.

Nonfatal injuries are far more common— 167 workers are injured every single day. Many of these workers are injured severely enough to suffer a disability for life. The rate of permanent disability is estimated at about 5% of all injuries while 50% of accidents are as minor as a strain or contusion. Over 2,700 workers under the age of 20 are injured every year as well.

Young People Represent a Third of Farm Deaths

Of the 374 deaths reported annually, an average of 113 are under the age of twenty. This is likely due to the fact that younger workers are more likely to make mistakes and lack the safety training and awareness to avoid serious injuries. Almost one quarter of the youth deaths were due to tractor related accidents and 19% involved the use of motor vehicles such as ATVs.

NIOSH began the development of a special program in the 1990s to help agricultural workers reduce their risk of serious injury through education and research. This organization has conducted research over the last two decades on injuries that include repetitive use, exposure to toxic substances, hearing loss, stress and machinery accidents in an effort to create new safety programs that can help entire farming families. These programs are based out of universities located in ten different states across the country.

Grants Available for Specialty Crops – March 26 Deadline

Varnum LLP

In early February 2015, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development (MDARD)announced the availability of a series of grants for Michigan specialty crop growers. The grants are funded by the Crop Block Grant Program, an initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture Ag Marketing Servicesprogram.

The grants are designed to increase the competitiveness of Michigan’s specialty crops sector. Funding will go toward myriad uses, including – but not limited to – research, education, marketing, nutrition, food safety, environmental concerns, and the general promotion of the specialty crop industry.

The grants will likely range from $10,000 to $100,000. Applications are due to MDARD no later than 3 p.m. on March 26, 2015. Eligible applicants include non-profits; local, state and federal governmental entities; and for-profit organizations.



Boyz In the Agrihood: Planned Communities Trade Golf Courses for Working Farms in North Carolina

Womble Carlyle Law firm

I don’t play golf.  I like golf, I’ll go out and hit around with friends or colleagues, but I don’t “play golf”.  To me, playing golf means 18 holes on a weekend, maybe 36, and perhaps a round or two during the week.  No, I don’t play golf.

And I don’t think I’m alone in my generation.  Thus, we don’t see much development anymore around golf courses, even here in North Carolina — home of famed Pinehurst and beautiful Quail Hollow. Sure, it happens, but not nearly as often as it did in the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s.

So, what takes the place of that planned living community “working” greenspace, formerly ruled by gold courses and tennis courts and pools?

Nationally, a growing number of “agrihoods” are popping up, residential developments where a working farm is the central feature.  In northern Durham County, just next to Raleigh, a group of real estate developers are seeking to build a 230-acre subdivision with 140 single family homes and featuring a 15-acre fruit and vegetable farm.  According to conceptions, weekly deliveries of produce from the farm would be included in HOA dues for Wetrock Farm, and the farm will be professionally managed.  Raleigh already has its City Farm, as do other up and coming cities in America, so this new conception of planned living appears to strive to capture what’s next for the homeowning American.  It’s mutually beneficial, as well, both to developer and purchaser:  “‘As a developer it’s been humbling that such a simple thing and such an inexpensive thing [like the farm] is the moved loved amenity,’ said Brent Herrington, who oversaw the building of Kukui’lua [community development in Kauai, Hawaii] for the developer DMB Associates.”

There are sure to be land use planning and operational challenges, of course, and we’ll be curious to identify and solve those issues.

Land Use Litigatior

“Restrictive covenants include no asphalt walkways, no garish house colors, and extra carrots.”

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