Stalled immigration reform efforts in congress are impacting dairy farmers in central and upstate New York. The increasing popularity of yogurt – coupled with drought in other milk-producing countries – has led to an economic boom for dairy producers here. In fact, New York has surpassed California to become the nation’s yogurt capital. But dairy farmers are struggling on the labor front.
Dairy farmers here rely on immigrant labor, because they say Americans aren’t interested in the jobs. But current immigration laws limit farmers to employing only seasonal agricultural workers, and dairies require year round labor, 24/7.
Mary Jo Dudley, who heads the Cornell Farmworker Program at Cornell University, said in a report in October that the state would need more than 2,200 additional farmworkers and about 100,000 more cows to ensure the steady production of sufficient milk to satisfy yogurt makers’ needs.
“Most people think of border and immigration issues as happening in the Southwest, but it’s a real issue up here,” said Dudley, who regularly visits dairy farms and hears stories from farmers and their workers about the latest detentions and scares.