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Dairy farmers want in on immigration reform

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Dairy farmers want in on immigration reform
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At a time when many people are looking for jobs, some in the dairy business are having trouble filling theirs. YNN's Andrew Sorensen tells us why farmers are hoping new talks in Congress this week will get the job done.

VERNON, N.Y. -- Steven Adams is part of an industry growing slimmer by the day. He's got some theories on why.

"Urban sprawl, America growing in on us," he said.

He's a seasoned manager at Vaill Brothers Dairy.

"I mean, it's a special niche to want to work with animals every day of your life," he said.

He's been dairy farming since he was 11. They've got a heavy workload here.

"We run about 520 cows on our facility," he explained.

But guys like him to fill the work are harder to find.

"Residents around this area just don't want to do this kind of work or are unable to do this kind of work," Adams said.

The solution for many is migrant workers.

"I know guys that are milking a couple hundred with them and I know guys who are milking 4,000 to 5,000 thousand with them," said Adams.

But they aren't technically legal.

"It's been a problem since the mid-80s when farms started expanding and pump prices started going down and smaller family farms are starting to go out," he explained.

The trouble under the current system is that dairy farming isn't designated as a seasonal activity like other types of farming, so they aren't eligible for migrant workers.

"Even though there are certain times throughout the year that dairy has a higher need for workforce," Oneida County Farm Bureau President Jacob Schieferstien said.

Schieferstien said if they can't get help with crops in the summer, it comes back on the cows in the winter.

"I mean, the work has to get done and if the workforce is not there, we have to pick one or the other," he said.

"They are the source of productivity, ingenuity and creativity that we rely on," Congressman Richard Hanna said of migrant workers.

Hanna wrote an unsuccessful bill to fix the dairy problem in 2011. He's one of a few now calling on it to be part of the larger immigration talks.

"If that's what's going to be the niche for the farmer to grow and keep expanding and keep America number one in agriculture, then that's what we need," said Adams.

Dairy farmers are hoping for a change in any new immigration bill, or the new farm bill in September.

They're also looking to a new farm bill for several potential industry changes, including new pricing for the milk they supply to accommodate the Greek yogurt boom.

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