A broad spectrum of Michigan farmers and growers were represented in Grand Rapids Oct. 10, to draw attention to Michigan agriculture's serious need for a functional visa system to obtain an adequate skilled workforce.
Surrounded by photos of unharvested fruits and vegetables that were wasted for lack of skilled harvesters, representatives spoke about the decade-long effort to obtain immigration reform.
Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development Commissioner Don Coe, also managing partner of Black Star Farms a commercial vineyard and winery in Suttons Bay, called for Congress to take action now. Coe outlined a series of actions that could easily document an immigrant workforce.
"I come at the issue of migrant labor and immigration reform as both a winery operator and MDARD Commissioner for seven years," Coe said. "I fully understand that comprehensive immigration reform is a hot-button issue.
"Yet we will always need a new workforce to take the jobs our current workforce does not want to do. Once you are established in a job and a place, you do not want to migrate from job to job and place to place," Coe said in calling for a functional and secure visa system to provide a reliable source of documented agricultural workers.
Michigan ranks second among all states in the diversity of crops grown, and over half of the state's agriculture value is in specialty crops such as greenhouse and woody plants, Christmas trees, and fruits and vegetables which aren't mechanized and must be tended by hand. Other large industries, including the poultry and dairy industries are also labor-intensive and suffering for lack of a functional worker visa system for immigrants.
Flanked by photos of apples having dropped to the ground, rotting tomatoes and unpicked asparagus, the Michigan apple industry said that the lack of labor to hand-harvest what is likely to be one of the state's largest apple crops is a serious problem.