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AFBF delegates pass H-2A labor policies originating in Michigan

Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski was reelected to represent the 12-state Midwest region on the AFBF board.

February 1, 2024

4 Min Read
Carl Bednarski, MFB president, speaking on a panel
MFB PRESIDENT: Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski spoke on policy recommendations during AFBF’s 105th annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. Michigan Farm Bureau

Proposals put forth by Michigan Farm Bureau to address labor issues were adopted at the national level, as delegates at American Farm Bureau Annual Convention voted to eliminate the Adverse Effect Wage Rate and supported seeking legislative proposals that would cap year-over-year increases until AEWR is overhauled.

AFBF delegates also agreed with MFB and opposed additional fees on the H-2A program that provide funding for programs unrelated to guest worker visas. 

MFB has been at the forefront of pushing Congress to provide relief to farmers using the H-2A guest worker program who face skyrocketing labor costs through rising AEWR, which jumped to $18.50 per hour in Michigan on Jan. 1. 

“When we hear what their issues are, we just don't leave it in Michigan — we take it to the national level,” says Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski, a Tuscola County farmer who was also reelected at the meeting to represent the 12-state Midwest region on the AFBF board of directors. He will continue serving on that board’s executive committee.

MFB continues to ask members and supporters of U.S. agriculture to send messages to lawmakers, urging them to address the unsustainable H-2A wage rates threatening the existence of family farms who depend on the program.

Participate by texting MIFARMS to 52886 or visit bit.ly/protectMIfarms

“The numbers are what makes the difference,” Bednarski says. “And we've seen it very loud and clear here today that the numbers are here, and Michigan has been taking a lead on a lot of these labor issues. Now the rest of the country is coming on board with us.”

Policies proposed by other states calling for a freeze on AEWR at 2023 levels and the use of USDA Census of Agriculture data when determining policy on agricultural labor were also approved by the voting delegates.

Other labor policies adopted included supporting the ability for cooperating farmers to make a joint application for H-2A workers who would be allowed to move from one cooperating farm to another during their contract period, and backing an exemption for H-2A workers from unions because their contract is already negotiated between the state and federal departments of labor. 

Farm bill principles

Delegates voted to accept Michigan’s policy recommendation supporting the development of a price support program for seasonal and perishable crops, similar to the American Seasonal and Perishable Crop Support Act.

The bill would provide a price support structure for farmers facing competition from fresh fruit and vegetable imports during their peak production seasons. 

“When we take a look at the price support for specialty crops, it's huge,” Bednarski says. “I mean, we have it in so many other commodities, but we don't really have it in specialty crops, and this is a great inroad to getting that movement and supporting those crops that don't always get the attention of the large crops that are grown in the U.S.”

Fiscal policy

With some banks not wanting to take large cash deposits from farms with direct-to-consumer cash sales, a policy recommendation from Michigan’s Mecosta and Osceola County Farm Bureau members was approved opposing cash deposit limits for legitimate businesses. 

Artificial intelligence 

Delegates voted in favor of adding a wide-ranging new policy on artificial intelligence, proposed by the Ohio Farm Bureau. 

“Artificial intelligence is here, and we didn’t have a policy on it,” Bednarski said. “We have quite an intensive policy that was presented, but with the understanding that by the time this comes around next year, at this convention, a lot of that is already going to be outdated and there's going to be more information needed. We need to get ahead of the curve here on this. And this is a good start in doing that.”

Among many provisions, the policy supports working toward creating regulatory frameworks and industry standards for AI in farming to ensure safe and fair practices and calls for user interfaces that present AI-driver recommendations in a clear and understandable manner — avoiding “overly technical jargon.” 

It also supports promoting AI applications that help “reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture,” citing precision farming techniques that optimize resource usages.

In the policy, AFBF supports establishing safety standards for AI-powered farm machinery and equipment, “ensuring they meet safety and reliability criteria to prevent accidents and harm to operators.”  

There should also be mechanisms in place to hold AI developers or operators accountable if an AI system makes a decision that leads to economic losses for a farmer or rancher due to errors or biases in the algorithm, according to the policy.

The approved language also encourages transparency in the algorithms used in AI systems and supports ensuring equitable access to AI technologies for farmers of all sizes and types to prevent monopolies or exclusionary practices.

Source: MFB

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