Sen. Michael Bennet stops in Weld County, northern Colorado to talk immigration with farmers | TheFencePost.com

Sen. Michael Bennet stops in Weld County, northern Colorado to talk immigration with farmers

WELLINGTON — Susan Moore, who owns La Luna Dairy with her husband Jon Slutsky, has a daughter, but when she met with about a dozen farmers and Sen. Michael Bennet on Friday afternoon, she told a story of a different girl who grew up around the farm.

She was bright — a straight-A student — and Moore said the girl probably could have gotten academic scholarships, but she had one thing in her way.

A social security number.

For Colorado's agricultural community, immigration policy can make or break a sustainable business. In the third stop on his agriculture tour of northern Colorado on Friday, Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, spoke with area farmers and industry leaders about the plans they'd like to see in Washington, D.C., and the effect current immigration policies, like the H-2A seasonal worker program, have on their operations.

Moore and Slutsky talked about the importance of not only having workers, but having workers who trust you.

Agriculture can't compete with the wages some other industries — like oil and gas or construction — can offer, so if farmers want to be a viable option for a worker, they have to be reliable. Dairies are year-round operations and desperately need the labor, said Shelly Dickinson, who owns dairies in Galeton and Loveland. So those vital employees need to feel like they and their families are safe.

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"I think there's a personal side," Dickinson said. "These kids need a chance."

When there's no guarantee of safety for the worker and no guarantee of labor for the employer, it can make it nearly impossible to sustain a business, Slutsky said.

That's why every farmer in the room — including those who need seasonal work, like Weld County vegetable growers Robert Sakata and Dave Petrocco — asked Bennet to aim for a guest-worker program that's different from the H-2A program.

Petrocco, who farms a variety of vegetables near Brighton, is the third generation farming on his land. He's worried he may be the last if labor policy isn't changed.

Bennet said he understood the need in the state, and across the country, for immigrant labor and discussed his work on the 2013 Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. The bill passed the Senate with 68 votes, he said, but it died in the House of Representatives. He said he hopes that after the election, new and positive action will be taken on immigration.

"For years, I've been hearing people in our agriculture sector saying they can't find the people they need to be able to hold onto their family farms and ranches," he said. "In my mind, we passed a bill in the Senate with almost 70 votes, it was a bipartisan bill, it was a good piece of legislation. We've got to get back to that instead of the political fighting that we're seeing."

Bennet serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and if reelected in November, he will serve on the farm bill committee next year and have a voice in the agricultural policies on the bill. He said he's looking forward to working with other senators on that bill, since there are no real partisan differences on farm bill issues, only geographic ones.

That's part of why he also made stops on Friday's tour in eastern Weld County.

"I really have a lot of optimism," he said about the future in ag policy, adding that he's grateful farmers are willing to work with him to make a difference. "The challenges — either unintentional or intentional that get put in your way I know don't make the job easier." ❖

H2A program

The H-2A program allows farmers to bring seasonal or temporary migrant workers to the U.S. to fill agricultural jobs and can require the farmer to provide housing, transportation and other amenities. To learn more about the program and its requirements, click here.