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Family Farms Feed Michigan's Future (4F) Coalition Announced Coalition Formed to Raise Public Awareness of Michigan's Agricultural Crisis

Contact: Denise Yockey
Executive Director
Michigan Apple Committee

John Bakker,
Executive Director
Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

(Lansing) With the backing of 17 of Michigan's agricultural commodity community, the formation of the Family Farms Feed Michigan's Future (4F) Coalition was announced today.

The coalition was formed to raise the public's awareness of the severe labor shortage Michigan's fruit, vegetable and flower growers are experiencing this year. The lack of willing and able seasonal harvesters of some of Michigan's key crops has already severely damaged Michigan's asparagus harvest and the issue is barreling headlong into a full-blown crisis for the state's already struggling economy.

“Michigan's agricultural community, the state's second largest industry, is in the midst of a crisis,” said Denise Yockey, Executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee. “If Congress doesn't pass an acceptable guest worker program this year, the impact on Michigan growers will be devastating.”

Michigan's, and the nation's, family farms have relied on a migrant work force for more than 100 years. Over the last thirty years, most of those workers have come from Mexico because jobs such as these that are transient, require a skilled work force and are highly labor intensive are just not attracting American workers – even with the state facing an unemployment rate 6.5 percent.

Last year alone, an estimated twenty percent of Michigan apples either went un-harvested or were sold for juice rather than in the higher value fresh market. With the rhetoric over immigration reform heating up in Washington, growers want the public to be aware that we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“Growers are in a crisis, we don't have the labor pool we need, and we can't just stand by and watch our crops – and our industry – whither on the vine or fall from the tree,” added Yockey. “Michigan is the nation's fourth largest user of migrant workers because we grow so many high-value fruit, vegetable and nursery crops.”

The coalition is comprised of the following Michigan commodity groups: Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Apple Committee, MACMA – Apple Committee, Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee, Michigan Celery Promotion Coop., Inc., Michigan Cherry Committee, Michigan Christmas Tree Association, Michigan Floriculture Association, Michigan Food Processors Association, Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association, Michigan Peach Sponsors, Michigan Plum Advisory Board, Michigan State Horticulture Society, Michigan Turfgrass Foundation, Michigan Vegetable Council and Wine Michigan.

“Family farmers built our nation. The ethics of hard work, responsibility, community service and activism came from the foundation of the family farm,” said John Bakker, Executive Director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. “For years, working with our hands, we've fed our nation and the world – now we need America's hand in passing a guest worker program this year. If not, more family farms will close their doors for good, and the family farm in Michigan will disappear more rapidly from our landscape.”

The mission of the 4F Coalition is to raise public awareness for the importance of federal legislation that would provide the agricultural community with revised guest worker legislation that includes the following elements:

    1.    An electronic verification system for guest workers,
    2.    A way to maintain current workers until a new system is in place, and
    3.    A regulated and dependable supply of new guest workers.
“If Michigan's fruits, vegetables and flowers go unharvested, it just means that consumers will purchase produce grown in China, Central and South America,” added Bakker. “We've already exported thousands of manufacturing jobs to China, we can't afford to export our agricultural jobs, too.”

“Migrant workers make jobs, they don't take them,” added Bakker. “The labor of each migrant worker creates three good paying jobs, and migrants contribute substantially to local economies by spending 50 percent – 75 percent of their earnings in the community in which they are working.”

“Immigration reform has become a ‘hot-button' issue in Michigan and across the nation, dominating talk radio and television news programming,” said Yockey. “Farmers are stuck in the middle of this raging debate. We don't oppose immigration reform, nor do we oppose necessary measures to make our borders safe. But there is a way to protect our citizens while at the same time ensuring the survival of our agricultural industry too. We are urging people to make their voices heard in supporting Michigan's growers.”