Yes, but who is going to milk the cows?

Laurie Fischer
Cows walk from a barn after being milked on a farm in April near Cambridge. Laurie Fischer of the American Dairy Coalition argues that immigration reform is needed to ensure there will be enough workers to milk cows.


For more than 20 years, the American dairy industry has looked to the federal government to fix our broken immigration system. As dairy producers grow their operations to keep up with the growing global demand for nutritious, safe and affordable dairy products, more and more manpower is needed to milk the cows, tend the fields and keep the dairy industry viable.

These low-skilled, but vitally important jobs, are passed up by domestic workers time and time again — regardless of increased starting wages and benefit packages. Immigrants are not taking jobs from domestic workers in the dairy industry. In fact, these low-skilled jobs are important for creating the higher-skilled jobs that employ thousands and thousands of domestic workers.

The bottom line: If dairy producers cannot find the labor they need, our nation must either import workers or import dairy products from foreign countries.

The bottom line: If dairy producers cannot find the labor they need, our nation must either import workers or import dairy products from foreign countries. Dairy producers have patiently waited for the federal government to provide a legal immigration reform solution, yet each year they are left with no answers and an increasingly dire situation.

The American Dairy Coalition and the 30,000 farmers we represent are taking an aggressive new approach to immigration reform. The ADC has been working with federal legislators on the introduction of immigration reform bills, two in particular recently were introduced and would function as tools that dairy producers can utilize to find the reliable workers they so desperately need.

Time and numerous unsuccessful attempts at immigration reform have taught us that there is no “one size fits all” answer to ensure a reliable labor force. The more bills (or tools) we pass, the greater the chances that all segments of the dairy, agriculture and livestock industries have the workers they need to produce the food we eat.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017.” This bill will create a non-immigrant visa category, allowing states to sponsor foreign nationals who wish to perform services, provide investment, direct an enterprise or otherwise contribute to the economic development of that state. Johnson’s bill provides an avenue for current undocumented workers to be vetted stringently by Homeland Security, bringing them out of the shadows and allowing them access to a renewable visa. This visa does not provide citizenship or the rights to federal entitlement programs, such as health care or food stamps.

The needs for immigrant labor vary across our nation; therefore, the best way to ensure the states have access to skill-appropriate labor is a system that is determined by the states. States can choose to decline to participate or choose to implement the program with the following:

  • Option to enter into interstate compacts to share labor
  • Ability to designate the number of visas per industry based on economics
  • Length of the visas (so long as it does not exceed three years)

This new approach to federal immigration reform will provide an option for farmers to employ workers — falling short of providing citizenship and federal benefits — including the law-abiding, hard-working immigrants already fulfilling vital roles in the dairy industry throughout the nation.

In addition to Johnson’s bill, the ADC continues to work with U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus, on the DAIRY Act. The DAIRY Act will provide dairy producers with a provision to utilize the H2-A visa program to bring new workers into the U.S. Currently, the dairy industry is excluded due to its 365-day-a-year need for labor. With the addition of dairy to the H2-A visa category, it will provide year-round farming operations the same access to new workers as seasonal operations, ensuring cows are milked and cared for in a timely, safe and efficient manner.

It is crucial you support these Wisconsin legislators, who are working very hard to provide the Wisconsin dairy industry with viable solutions. These bills will provide our industry with tools to legalize a workforce.

Fischer is the CEO and founder of the American Dairy Coalition. ADC represents 30,000 dairy farmers from across the United States.