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By Jim Barbar

As the harvest season intensifies here in New York, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the enormous impact that farming has on our statewide economy and the critical importance of common-sense immigration reform to the continued success of our farms.

The great diversity of agricultural production in this state requires a skilled and dedicated workforce to get farm products from the fields, orchards and barns to the homes and businesses of all New Yorkers. Our upstate communities and economies are sustained by this dynamic local food system.

Immigration reform is very important for farmers, farmworkers and communities across rural America. The majority of our agriculture workforce is made up of immigrants, and their hard work has helped America’s farmers and ranchers feed the country.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a common-sense immigration reform measure in a strongly bipartisan fashion.

It would modernize the system that we use to bring skilled workers into the United States. And it would put in place the toughest border security plan that America has ever seen – building on steps that have reduced illegal border crossings to their lowest level in decades.

This bill is also important for rural America. Recently, the White House economic team released a new report highlighting the positive economic benefits immigration reform would provide for agriculture and rural communities.

The report highlights research showing that without a stable workforce, America’s record agricultural productivity will decline in coming years. In New York, for example, eliminating the immigrant labor force would cost more than $175 million in short-term production losses.

The Senate bill addresses this concern by taking much-needed steps to ensure a stable agricultural workforce, and a fair system for U.S. producers and farmworkers. In particular, it would give qualifying farm workers an expedited path to earned citizenship, as long as they continue to work in agriculture. A new temporary worker program would replace the current H-2A visa program over time, and allow farmworkers a three-year visa to work year-round in any agricultural job.

This system wouldn’t just prevent a decline in production – it would grow the economy. Research highlighted in the White House report projects that an expanded temporary worker program would increase both production and exports across our agriculture sector.

To remain competitive and keep driving economic growth in rural America, we need rules that work. Rural America needs Congress to act as soon as possible to carry forward the work of the U.S. Senate and fix today’s broken immigration system.

Jim Barber is executive director of the state Farm Service Agency in Syracuse.