Immigration Effects On Agriculture

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An immigration reform bill could mean big changes in the nation's economy.

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. are debating the immigration reform bill's specifics.

Last week, Senators agreed on a compromise including strengthening border security, establishing a guest-worker program and allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country to possibly become citizens.

"We need the labor force in this country. Whether their working on a farm, orchard or factory, we need the labor force," farmer, Bill Jackson said.

Workers are always needed to tend crops.

"I don't know that it's going to impact us much as a workforce because they're already here working illegally," Jackson said.

If legalized, immigrants could spend more time working in this country which AG Extension Agent Joanna Coles feels will have a negative effect on farms in Kentucky.

"In other parts of the United States this might help because a lot of times they do have year long things for ag workers," Coles explained.

For instance, fruits and vegetables are seasonal here in Kentucky just ask Jackson - it's his business.

Jackson uses H2A workers on his farm. They are immigrants legally allowed to work here in the agriculture industry for up to ten months out of the year.

It's a perfect trade off for Jackson. His orchards only need seasonal workers, but his farmer counterparts may need more help.

"If we got them legal, they could work for a dairy farm, they could work 12 months out of the year and there would be another area of jobs that would be available to the Hispanics, that is greatly needed by the dairy farmers in Kentucky," Jackson said.

Coles said farming is very hard work and it doesn't offer a lot of benefits like insurance. She said that may be a reason immigrants may look elsewhere for jobs.

"If they are all legalized then they might look for other types of work with more benefits and those types of things because a lot of agricultural work is seasonal," Coles explained.

While the debate continues about the future of immigration, the one thing in agreement is illegal immigrants are needed in our work force.