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Utah farmers: Study shows immigration reform needed

Published March 18, 2014 7:52 pm

Import food or workers? • Study shows share of produce imported hit all-time high.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A new study says the share of produce that is imported to America is growing rapidly — prompting Utah farmers to say that shows they need immigration reform to compete.

"With the great variety of jobs we have in our country, most do not want to work on the farm. Because of that, we have to understand that we're either going to import our workers or our food," said Jake Harward, a hay and vegetable farmer in Springville.

"I'm more comfortable eating food that I know was grown here in a safe and responsible way," he said.

The Utah Farm Bureau Federation on Tuesday called again for immigration reform while pointing to new findings by a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. The federation says it mirrors what Utah farmers are finding.

Among highlights, it said the share of imported fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Americans has grown in recent years by 79.3 percent. It said demands for fresh produce by Americans has grown, but U.S. production levels have barely grown or declined.

A key reason for the disparity of supply and demand, according to the study, is the labor challenges faced by U.S. farmers and inadequacies and red-tape in the H-2A visa program to bring in legal, temporary help from abroad.

"Immigrants play a big part in the farming community. Without their help, I'm not sure how many of us would keep our businesses running," said Leland Hogan, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. "America's and Utah's farms and ranches cannot grow while our immigration system remains broken."

Jeremy East, owner of East Farms in Davis County, said the report's findings mirror his personal experience. "I am unable to keep up with consumer demand and meet the full potential of my farm due to labor difficulties," East said. "Without immigration reform, farms cannot reach their full potential and produce the amount of food we all enjoy."

Stephen Osguthorpe is a Park City rancher.

"We would be out of business tomorrow if we didn't have immigrant herders help us care for our sheep," he said. "[But] the legal immigration process has some real deficiencies by taking too long and requiring a lot of paperwork to get these immigrant workers who have a very special skill set. This needs to change."

ldavidson@sltrib.com .