BUCYRUS – As he stepped out of the chilly rain Monday and into his milking parlor, Kent Stuckey greeted one of the Guatemalan migrants who help him milk 560 cows every day.
By: Zach Tuggle
“We only went to immigrant workers because we couldn’t find local people who were willing to work,” Stuckey said. “They’re legal. They pay taxes. They do a lot of work for us.”
His isn’t the only farm that draws help from outside the United States, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala.
“A lot of milk in the US is harvested by migrant workers,” Stuckey said. “It’s really a big deal in the dairy industry.”
It’s such a big deal that Stuckey visited Capitol Hill earlier this month to lobby for immigration reform. The trip was arranged by Dairy Farmers of America. Stuckey was accompanied by farmers from Indiana and Michigan.
“It was kind of regional,” Stuckey said.
The group made the trip because lawmakers are planning to soon begin work on a national farm bill — a new farm bill is typically signed once every five years.
“They set it on a five-year rotation to keep it out of the political rotation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t political,” Stuckey said. “It should be signed within the next year.”
Because of the recent uptick in the national debate surrounding immigration, Stuckey and his fellow farmers decided now would be a good time to explain to politicians how severely the conversation affects farmers, and consumers.
“It’s one of those issues we’re trying to get ahead of, and educate,” Stuckey said. “That’s what you have to do with your congressmen and senators — you have to engage them.”
Working with lawmakers is nothing new to Stuckey: He made 16 trips to Capitol Hill several years ago when he was the state president of Ohio’s Soil and Water Conservation District. Although the message was a little different, he felt right at home talking to the bureaucrats.
The delegation of farmers met with several congressmen, then the aides of two different senators. Their message was that migrant workers play a critical role in our nation’s economy even though they’re hidden away in dairy barns, wearing muck boots.
“If we send these immigrants home, who is going to do the work?” Stuckey said. “There are whole industries that are going to hurt.”
If the dairy industry in Ohio starts to hurt, then everyone in Ohio who consumers dairy products will start to hurt. Stuckey ships the 4,700 pounds of milk he collects each day to a facility that bottles it for distribution within Kroger stores across central Ohio.
The Guatemalans who work for Stuckey are in Crawford County on a full-time basis. Some farmers, though, only need part-time help. Stuckey said his son, Ethan, looked into hiring a migrant for seasonal work through the government’s H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers — the employees would help with the fruits and vegetables the family grows on 26 acres to sell at their produce shop, called Pickwick Place.
The family gave up on their application when they ran into too many regulations that prevented them from caring for their workers.
“I have a house, but I can’t use it for housing because some of the rooms are too big,” Stuckey said.
But at least Stuckey knows he could find a migrant worker to help grow vegetables if he found the proper housing. There’s no such option for temporary help at dairy farms.
“The dairy industry needs a visa program,” Stuckey said. “We need a way to get people in who are willing to work.”
The Guatemalans that Stuckey has met have so far been more than willing to work. He said they’re polite, intelligent and willing to work very hard. He said their trip through Mexico and into the United States is a testament to what they’re willing to do.
“For them to get through the red tape and make it all the way here, that’s the cream of the crop,” Stuckey said. “We should be glad to have these people in our country.”
He and everyone else affiliated with the Dairy Farmers of America plan to follow up every six months to see what progress has been made on a potential H-2C, which would allow migrants to work on dairy farms on a temporary basis. With no willing helpers from within Crawford County, Stuckey said migrants are the future of dairy farms.
“They’re hard workers,” he said.