WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and 15 colleagues are urging congressional leadership to use the earliest possible legislative vehicle to freeze to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) at 2023 levels in order to provide relief to farmers and ranchers already suffering under the burden of high input costs.

The request, made in a letter sent to Senate and House leadership, explains how the increased AEWR that went into effect in January 1, 2024, is especially harmful to small and family-operated farms and ranches that rely on H-2A labor.  Nationally, the AEWR increased by 5.6 percent in January, but the rate in Mississippi increased by 6.0 percent.  (Mississippi 2023 rate vs. 2024.)

“The increasing cost of labor for agriculture producers is unsustainable.  According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the national average AEWR will be $17.55 this year,” the Senators wrote.  “That represents an increase of 5.6 percent from 2023, the third year in a row the AEWR increased by over five percent.  In fact, the national average AEWR has more than doubled since 2005.  This is compounded by the increased costs of inputs like energy and fertilizer, other guest worker expenses such as housing and transportation, and forthcoming expenses imposed by new regulations and fees.”

“If costs continue to increase as they have, the pressure put on America’s food producers will fundamentally shift the food production model that has allowed us to be agriculturally independent and secure,” the Senators continued.  “In order to support our farmers and ranchers and feed families across the country, we must act now.”

The Biden Department of Labor has implemented an AEWR methodology under which the amounts producers are required to pay H-2A workers will continue to surge and further diminish thin profit margins if the AEWR is not frozen.

Unsustainable AEWR increases are one of many increasing costs farmers and ranchers face, and these increases could threaten national food security and shift production away from the United States.  The letter notes how the new AEWR is causing some producers to face difficult questions over which crops they can now afford to grow and harvest—or whether to shutter operations.  

Hyde-Smith recently became an original cosponsor of the Supporting Farm Operations Act (S.3848), which would revert the AEWR to the December 2023 level through the end of the 2025 growing season.  This measure is supported by the Delta Council, Mississippi Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Sweet Potato Council, and numerous other agricultural organizations.

U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) led the letter, which was also signed by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

Read the Senators’ letter here.