Western Growers' Dave Puglia Discusses Next Steps for Affordable and Secure Food Act
SACRAMENTO, CA - There is a cautiously excited undercurrent humming in our industry, one that hopes to see a turning point in a decades-long battle for legal channels to open a stream of ag labor via immigration. Last week, the news broke that the Affordable and Secure Food Act is moving before the Senate.
“This is something my predecessor Tom Nassif did a lot of heavy lifting on: a process as far as 20 years in the making, which I have been working to help finish for the past few years. But, while it is a great step, it is also a position we have been in before. There is always some political reason not to get this done. Our entire supply chain together is the activation it will take to break the cycle,” Western Growers President and Chief Executive Officer Dave Puglia shared with me. “If you have a relationship with a senator, especially a Republican one, you need to make the case for Senator Bennett and help get us to the finish line.”
While this call to action is incredibly necessary as the clock on 2022 winds down, Dave does point out there are differences that could spell a change for the efforts of the act. Namely, what was once often felt as almost exclusively a produce problem has become one for agriculture at large.
“If I think back to our 2008 immigration legislation push, and then 2013, the ag sector’s pain in the labor shortage was most potently the produce industry. Now it’s a shared pain: A larger family push gives this bill a chance to give us all what is sorely needed. There is a greater understanding in the population that the labor shortage is here, how that impacts our food chain, and, ultimately, our ability to supply ourselves with product grown in the United States,” Dave reflects, promising that if things continue without any reprieve of wider labor pools, we will be forced to import a lot of products we usually have locally.
And though Dave agrees that he has seen support from states he would once not have expected as a wider understanding of labor imbalance sinks in, he agrees with Senator Michael Bennet that a passing of the act would be “a Christmas miracle.”
“The squeeze on labor is not a pain we want to share, but hopefully it does help empower the cause we have been fighting for decades,” Dave says. “I have a vision of our partners in the supply chain being as engaged as we are. The power of the supply chain being unified not just in word but in action, supporting a common goal, is a force that we have seen create true change.”
Though just about any industry may be seeing labor challenges, whether access to resources like year-round H-2A access is needed can be argued in many—except ag. As Dave concluded, ours is not a question of necessity, or even of urgency. For us, it is whether this time we see the change essential to secure an act that Western Growers truly believes benefits everyone.