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Losing immigrant on dairy farms would double milk prices and cost $32 billion

Staff writer |
Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants, and the damage from losing those workers would extend far beyond the farms, nearly doubling retail milk prices and costing the total U.S. economy more than $32 billion.

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This is according to a new report commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation.

The report, which includes the results of a nationwide survey of farms, found that one-third of all U.S. dairy farms employ foreign-born workers, and that those farms produce nearly 80 percent of the nation’s milk.

It concluded that a complete loss of immigrant labor could cause the loss of one-in-six dairy farms and cut U.S. economic output by $32.1 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Some 77,000 of the lost jobs would be on dairy farms.

Retail milk prices, the report said, would increase 90 percent if all immigrant labor was lost. That would drive the supermarket price of a gallon of milk, which averaged $3.37 in June, to approximately $6.40.

The survey, an update of one done in 2009, was conducted last fall, before immigration became a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign.

A comparison of the two surveys shows the number of immigrants working on dairy farms increased by 35 percent, or nearly 20,000, in six years. The portion of the milk supply coming from farms with immigrant labor increased by 27 percent.

The survey results do not distinguish between documented and undocumented foreign-born workers, but 71 percent of survey respondents said they had either low or medium level of confidence in the employment documents of their immigrant workers.

As a result, the report said, a majority of dairy farmers are very concerned about actions such as immigration raids or employee audits. Despite this, 80 percent of dairy farms surveyed continue to hire immigrants.

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