New Biden Regulation Puts U.S. Farmers in Jeopardy

farmers affected by biden

As autumn approaches and the agricultural community prepares for the annual harvest, American farmers are grappling with the implications of a recent regulatory change from the Biden administration. This policy shift threatens to disrupt farming operations nationwide by dramatically altering the H-2A visa program, a crucial mechanism for recruiting seasonal agricultural labor from other countries.

The Growing Reliance on H-2A Visas

Due to urban migration trends and a dwindling rural labor force, American farmers have increasingly relied on the H-2A visa program to fill the labor gaps. To qualify for H-2A visas, farmers are mandated to advertise job openings domestically for two months before hiring foreign workers. Moreover, the farmers must pay both domestic and international workers a higher-than-average wage compared to employers not utilizing the program.

Soaring Wage Requirements Under New Rule

The Biden administration’s new regulation escalates wages to unsustainable levels. For instance, it mandates that farmers reclassify laborers performing brief tasks traditionally outside their main job role, such as driving a truck for an hour, under a higher-paying job category. As a result, a sweet-potato farmer in North Carolina who needs a harvester to transport produce for storage must not only categorize that worker as a truck driver but also boost his salary by up to 80% for the duration of his contract.

Unintended Consequences and Economic Strain

Although the administration claims this change aims to increase pay for the small percentage of H-2A workers performing higher-wage tasks, the rule has broader unintended consequences. It stipulates that even a worker performing a different task for a brief moment must receive inflated wages. Moreover, wages are often calculated based on data skewed toward urban living costs, forcing farmers in rural locations to pay metropolitan-level salaries.

Adding to the operational challenges, farmers must now file multiple H-2A petitions for job categories requiring higher wages. This results in greater filing fees, legal expenses, and administrative complications. One report indicated that the cost for a farmer to reclassify just two of his H-2A employees under the new regulation would be over $44,000.

Impact on Farms and Wider Economy

The repercussions could be staggering for both large and small-scale farms. While larger operations may choose to increase produce prices to offset higher labor costs, smaller farms may scale down or cease operations altogether. A national survey revealed that 65% of farmers stated they could not continue using the H-2A program if the new rule remains in place.

Moreover, this change could ripple across the broader American economy. Recent research shows that for every five H-2A workers employed, approximately two jobs are created for American citizens. With the new regulation exacerbating labor shortages and inflating food prices—especially troubling when many households are already allocating 30% of their disposable income to groceries—the overall economic impact could be severe.

The Path Forward

To alleviate this situation, Congress is considering the Farm Operations Support Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at overturning the Biden administration’s regulation. If left unchallenged, this rule risks compromising the well-being of farmers and consumers alike, effectively sowing seeds for a more expensive and less efficient agricultural sector.

As harvest season looms, the clock is ticking for lawmakers to act. Otherwise, both the agricultural community and the American consumer will bear the brunt of this poorly-conceived regulatory change.

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