Immigrant workers have significant impact on agriculture, dairy farms

Immigrant workers have significant impact on agriculture, dairy farms

The purpose of days like Day WIthout Latinos and Day Without Immigrants is to show the value of immigrant workers in our communities, which is especially true in the dairy industry, where immigrant workers make up more than 50 percent of farm employees.

“They are a significant impact on agriculture, especially the dairy industry,” Jennifer Blazek said.

Blazek, a dairy and livestock educator with the Dane County UW Extension Office, works closely with area dairy farmers.

“Having those people who are willing to work and who are hard workers, a lot of farmers have really enjoyed the work ethic of their employees,” Blazek said.

She said without them there could be significant impacts.

“I think the most prominent thing that we might see here locally is a lot of dairy farms going out of business,” Blazek said. “If you don’t have people to milk cows, initially, there will be a lot of milk dumping. We’re going to have cows that are very uncomfortable. For the most part, I just think farms are not going to be able to function.”

There is also the potential for the cost of dairy products to go up.

“Prices will go up. Most agriculture relies on immigrant labor and workers who are seasonal, moving through the states, so a lot of products will cost more,” Blazek said.

Blazek said they’re still determining what could happen if immigrant workers weren’t available to work for dairy farms, but added that using robots to milk the cows could be the way of the future.

Many area organizations are pushing to keep immigrants on the farms, and continue to grow throughout the community.

Karen Coller, executive director for Centro Hispano, said Latinos make up a large portion of immigrant dairy farm workers.

“That’s one of the most important links,” Coller said.

She said they add a large value not only to the dairy community, but Dane County as a whole.

“In Dane County, where a large chunk of the community is rural, it’s important for people to understand the Latinos are here and it’s important for them to understand that we’re contributing. We’re not part of this group that is taking away from others, but we’re, in fact, adding to a thriving economy,” Coller said.