Wisconsin's dairy community is hopeful that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will gain a better understanding of the importance of immigrant labor to agriculture and the security of our food supply during his visit to the state this week.
Trump has announced several events throughout the state leading up to the state's primary election on Tuesday. Trump's past statements about immigrants have not shown an understanding of just how critical this group is to dairy farmers and American food production.
"Immigrant workers play a key role on dairies throughout the state," said Gordon Speirs, a dairy farmer from Brillion, and the president of the Dairy Business Association (DBA). "Without access to labor, some dairies would simply have to close. Any growth or expansion would be out of the question."
"As Americans we are concerned about national security," Speirs said. "We cannot have national security without food security, and we cannot have food security without workers. It is better that we import workers to help grow, harvest and process our food here rather than have the food grown elsewhere and have to import it."
Despite offering competitive wages, dairy farmers struggle to find and retain workers because of the demands of the job. This has become even more challenging as rural America has seen its population age and slowly decline.
"Dairy farmers know that their immigrant workers to be good, honest, and hardworking people," said John Holevoet, DBA's director of government affairs. "The campaign rhetoric so far has been hurtful and has made many workers unnecessarily apprehensive about their futures."
Research conducted by a team at Texas A&M University showed the retail cost of milk would nearly double without immigrant labor. The impact on the many Americans whose only budget flexibility comes from the money spent on food would be particularly severe.
"We hope Mr. Trump will take some time to talk with our farmers while he's here," Speirs said. "We need a thoughtful discussion of this topic for the good of our farmers and overall economy."