Pa. Farmer Featured in Immigration Reform Video

11/2/2013 7:00 AM

WASHINGTON — The American Farm Bureau Federation released three videos this week as members from 15 states gathered in the nation’s capital to push Congress to act on immigration reform.

In “Ag Labor Mushrooming’ Problem,” the latest video released by Farm Bureau, Chester County, Pa., farmer Ed Leo explains the challenge in finding workers to harvest mushrooms by hand.

He needs workers year-round to provide mushrooms for the fresh market. Although Leo and two partners, including his son, employ about 60 full-time people to harvest mushrooms, it’s been difficult for them to find and hire additional workers because of immigration issues.

“Throughout the summer we had to harvest crops earlier than normal, which we don’t like to do,” Leo said. “Labor is getting more critical every month. The situation has been getting worse and worse over the last year or so.”

Despite offering pay that is double what local fast-food employees earn, plus health benefits, paid vacation time and holidays, few people are interested in working on the farm.

“We’ve tried domestic American labor and it just doesn’t exist,” Leo said.

Mechanized harvesting of mushrooms is not an option because fungi that start growing at the same time often vary in size and maturity level.

Like other farmers, Leo wants to employ legal workers. And he wants legislators to make sure there is a pathway for hiring enough legal workers to get his mushroom crop harvested on time.

“This is a very big deal for all of agriculture,” Leo said.

With immigration reform legislation implemented, Leo and other farmers would have one less thing to worry about.

“We can go back to the business of growing good, healthy mushrooms for consumers” once Congress acts, Leo said.

The video can be seen at

In the second video, “Farmers Need Labor Reform,” South Carolina peach farmer Chalmers Carr explains why reform of farm labor programs is so important to U.S. agriculture.

In the third video, “Farm Labor Needs Are Tied to Immigration Reform,” Oregon farmer Doug Krahmer talks about the challenge of finding enough pickers to harvest his 500 acres of blueberries and to help with the year-round maintenance of the plants.

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation.

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