Ag Labor: Congressional Working Group Releases Interim Report Highlighting Challenges

On April 28 and 29, 2023, members of the CSG East Agriculture and Rural Affairs Policy Committee gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, for a summit to discuss policy options for overcoming the challenges around labor shortages in the farm and food processing sector. At the summit, industry experts and government representatives discussed the problems currently facing the agricultural sector and possible solutions.

Since then, a Congressional Working Group, made up of members of the House Agriculture Committee, has published an interim report on the challenges agricultural producers and processors face in securing a steady and reliable source of labor. The bi-partisan working group, chaired by Congressmen Crawford (R-AK) and Davis (D-NC), issued the report, based on the results of five roundtable sessions and surveys.

An excerpt of the report is published below. Click here to read and download the full report.



As Members of the House Committee on Agriculture, we are responsible for the authorization and oversight of federal policies critical to supporting farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, foresters, rural communities, and consumers. We also have a duty to be voices in Congress on issues and policies impacting the livelihoods of these constituencies, even if legislative jurisdiction rests in another committee or committees.

An urgent challenge facing the agricultural sector is producers’ lack of access to an adequate workforce. This has been a problem for decades, and it continues to worsen. Farmers in the U.S. are already reeling from record-high production costs that have translated into thin margins. The inability to find and hire workers is only exacerbating this negative trend.

In the summer of 2023, the House Committee on Agriculture formed the Agricultural Labor Working Group (ALWG) to identify the issues causing the lack of available domestic workforce, the impact this has on our nation’s domestic food supply, and the potential solutions to address this critical challenge. The ALWG has been engaged in a rigorous agenda and has received input from numerous stakeholders, employers, and workers around the country with a specific focus on the H–2A visa program for non-immigrant agricultural workers.

Food security is a national security issue. A large threat to America’s food supply is an unstable workforce available to deliver safe, affordable, and abundant food. This issue deserves the focused attention of the House Committee on Agriculture and the broader Congress and is a necessary undertaking to ensure the success of the agricultural industry for years to come.

Previous efforts to reform the H–2A program have been largely unsuccessful. But that does not mean the effort is over. In the coming months, the ALWG will utilize the information contained in this report, as well as past and future testimonials and information, to develop a final list of policy recommendations to refer to the committee of jurisdiction: the House Committee on the Judiciary.

This report is a summary of what we have heard from various stakeholders, the current state of affairs, and the bevy of issues that farm employers and workers face when utilizing the H–2A program. This report is intended to be a politically neutral document to inform policy makers rather than advocate for particular policy solutions. This report will:

    • Detail the many complexities and burdens employers and workers face that make the H–2A program more difficult to comply with and administer.
    • Cover the pros and cons of the possibility of expanded access to the H–2A program for various sectors, as well as impediments to hiring workers in a timely manner.
    • Describe the cost burden employers face and how participation in the program will impact labor expenses and profitability for producers as well as discuss the types of wage possibilities for domestic and foreign workers which may reflect regional and national economic trends.
    • Discuss the working and living conditions of H–2A workers, and their relationship with producers that use the program.
    • Reference testimonials from farmers, producers, employers, workers, and stakeholders from across the country who have contributed to our ALWG survey.
    • Provide a detailed accounting of problems with the H–2A program and the negative impacts these issues are having on our domestic food supply.

Food security is a national security issue. A large threat to America’s food supply is an unstable workforce available to deliver safe, affordable, and abundant food. This issue deserves the focused attention of the House Committee on Agriculture and the broader Congress and is a necessary undertaking to ensure the success of the agricultural industry for years to come.


All of the Above: Ensuring Energy Independence

Recent events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and lingering supply chain disruptions, have once again highlighted the importance of ensuring the nation’s energy independence. With the push for greater domestic production, states are seeking to expand their portfolios with an “all of the above” energy strategy. Despite its small size, West Virginia is the fifth largest state for energy production. While West Virginia has traditionally been known for coal, the Mountain State has moved to expand its energy portfolio in recent years. In 2022, the Legislature passed bills ending the state’s moratorium on new nuclear energy sites, promoting geothermal energy development, and supporting the use of hydroelectric power. During this two-day Masterclass, participants learned about West Virginia’s energy strategy and ways to emulate and implement these processes in their home states. 

Legislators, legislative staff, and agency officials from across the country convened in Wheeling, West Virginia, for the “All of the Above” Policy Masterclass. Twenty-nine participants from 15 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia participated in the Masterclass. West Virginia Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Craig Blair, 2023 – 2024 Chair of CSG South, provided pre-recorded opening remarks. 

Over three days, participants engaged in programming covering myriad topics related to energy policy. Briefings included topics such as energy security and resilience, federal funding opportunities to strengthen the grid and incentivize local economic development, the future of nuclear energy, permitting policy and reform, carbon capture and sequestration, solar energy and new economy jobs in Appalachia, and the future of energy generation in America. Participants also toured the Alliance Resource Partners’ Tunnel Ridge surface mine and had the opportunity to “choose their own adventure”, opting between an underground mine tour at American Consolidated Natural Resources, or a tour of the MPX Majorsville plant.  

Experts from several prestigious organizations briefed attendees, including the following: 

  • Arnold Ventures
  • National Association of State Energy Officials
  • HolTec International
  • Brookings Institute
  • Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • Diversified Energy
  • Equinox Global Solutions
  • Edelen Renewables
  • West Virginia Legislature
  • Louisiana Legislature

Hosted by CSG South, participants in this Masterclass increased their knowledge of energy policy and examples of state solutions by interacting with subject matter experts and colleagues from across the country.

  • Speaker Roger Hanshaw, West Virginia
  • Senator Bob Hensgens, Louisiana, Vice Chair, CSG South Energy & Environment Committee
  • Senator Mary Boren, Oklahoma
  • Assemblywoman Tracy Brown May, Nevada
  • Representative Jon Conrad, Wyoming
  • Representative Aaron Crossley, Missouri
  • Representative Jack Fortner, Arkansas
  • Senator Hillman Frazier, Mississippi
  • Representative Donna Givens, Alabama
  • Delegate Scot Heckert, West Virginia
  • Representative Jason Hughes, Louisiana
  • Senator Scott Kawasaki, Alaska
  • Representative Cathy Kipp, Colorado
  • Representative Greg Kmetz, Montana
  • Delegate Daniel Linville, West Virginia
  • Representative Kevin McDugle, Oklahoma
  • Representative Orlando Paden, Mississippi
  • Member of Legislative Assembly Iain Rankin, Nova Scotia
  • Senator Cody Rogers, Oklahoma
  • Delegate George Street, West Virginia
  • Representative Lisa Subeck, Wisconsin
  • Senator Robin Webb, Kentucky
  • Delegate Mark Zatezalo, West Virginia
  • Mr. Robert Akers, West Virginia
  • Ms. Abby Berquist, South Carolina
  • Mr. Jeff Billings, West Virginia
  • Ms. Endra Curry, South Carolina
  • Mr. Mark Hendrick, South Carolina
  • Mr. Zachary Rogers, Arkansas


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Southern Pulse Newsletter, November 2023

November is a month full of good food, laughter, and a time to reflect on all we are thankful for. As we approach the closure of our fall programming, our office is taking a moment to reflect on the remarkable achievements we’ve experienced, including three outstanding Policy Masterclasses, CALS, SAGE, and our LSA Director’s Group Meeting.  Thank you to everyone who attended our programs, and we hope you continue to stay engaged into 2024! 

The small yet mighty team at CSG South extends thanks to all our members for the ability to collaborate, network, and build lasting relationships, allowing us to serve as your nonpartisan regional resource. Guided by our values and passion, our team navigates through busy months filled with travel, fall programming, research and writing, and a long list of to-dos. We could not do our work without you and are so blessed!  

To all our members, we wish you a peaceful and restful holiday season surrounded by friends and loved ones. We can’t wait to see you again soon! 

All the best,
Lindsey G.

Click here to read Southern Pulse- November 2023

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CSG South Senior Policy Analyst Cody Allen Testified to Lawmakers on the State of School Property Insurance

On Thursday, October 26, CSG South Senior Policy Analyst Cody Allen spoke before an Oklahoma Joint Interim Study Committee examining the state of public school property insurance in the region and possible policy solutions. His presentation to this Joint Education Committee hearing, chaired by Representative Rhonda Baker and Senator Darcy Jech, focused on the North Carolina Public School Insurance Fund, established in 1949 by the General Assembly, as an equitable and lower-cost property insurance option for school districts. Notably, this voluntary program currently enrolls approximately 68 percent of the state’s local education agencies – along with community colleges and charter schools, who choose to participate. He also touched on legislation considered and enacted in Kentucky, Texas, and West Virginia and emergency appropriations from Arkansas to address this crisis and assist struggling school systems. Allen closed his testimony by highlighting the nationwide scope of the property insurance crisis and acknowledging states are continuing to study this issue as they prepare for the 2024 legislative session.

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Family losses of land and wealth are part of nation’s history; protecting future generations is among the goals of new laws on heirs’ property

Emily Dievendorf’s legislative district includes the urban center of Lansing as well as many acres of farmland surrounding Michigan’s capital city.

Among the issues the first-term lawmaker has found to unite her constituents, regardless of where they live, is an interest in helping families hold on to land as it passes from one generation to the next. That includes the preservation of family farms across her district and the state.

Earlier this year, Dievendorf introduced HB 4924, a bill that aims to improve the process of property transfers as well as provide new protections for heirs. “Many folks would be assumed to be on different sides of the political conversation and when it comes to this, they aren’t,” explains Dievendorf, “because we’re recognizing what happens over hundreds of years when you are not able to pass on the results of your work.”

If HB 4924 becomes law, Michigan would join two other states in the Midwest, Iowa and Illinois, that have made similar statutory changes in recent years.

In all, 20 U.S. states have adopted the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (or measures  “substantially similar”) since the nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission drafted the model legislation in 2010.

What is heirs’ property?

When a landowner dies without a will, the land passes to his or her heirs according to state law. When there are multiple heirs, they all become owners of an undivided interest in land as “tenants-in-common.”

After several generations of land being passed without a will, it is possible (and common) for land to be owned by many individuals. In some instances, there may be as many as 80 owners of a single tract of land.

Unanimous decision-making on the property is required by the tenants-in-common. Additionally, each tenant-in-common has the right to seek partition from the court in one of two ways:

1) request the physical division of the land into smaller parcels, known as partition-in-kind; or, if that is not possible,

2) partition by a court-ordered sale.

When the Uniform Law Commission drafted the legislation, it described flaws within the current system this way:

“Tenants-in-common are vulnerable because any individual tenant can force a partition. Too often, real estate speculators acquire a small share of heirs’ property in order to file a partition action and force a sale. Using this tactic, an investor can acquire the entire parcel for a price well below its fair market value and deplete a family’s inherited wealth in the process.”

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act aims to preserve generational land wealth — whether that land is a city lot or a family farm.

“[The act] doesn’t change a state’s inheritance laws, it changes the processes,” says Rusty Rumley, an attorney with the National Agricultural Law Center.

For example, it requires notice, a court-ordered independent appraisal of the property’s value, and a right of first refusal, thus allowing co-tenants to buy out the party seeking partition. Perhaps most importantly, Rumley says, the act requires an open-market commercial sale rather than auction if the co-tenants cannot come to an agreement.

Traditionally, court-ordered sales are completed via an auction. Often, though, the only bidders are the speculators or investors who initially requested the partition; as a result, they have been able to purchase the land for less than the market value.

Complications for farmland heirs

Across the Midwest, an estimated 1.24 million acres of land is being held as heirs’ property, according to a 2023 study in the U.S. Journal of Rural Social Sciences. The assessed value of that land is estimated at a little more than $3 billion.

These numbers could rise as more property, particularly farmland, gets transferred to the next generation. (More than one-third of the nation’s are age 65 or older.) While most farmers have estate plans, a significant number of them do not. Even if there is a plan, complications can lead to land being classified as heirs’ property.

“Any language (whether in a formal estate plan or following the laws of intestacy) that creates a tenancy-in-common ends up as heirs’ property unless those heirs do something proactively to address the issue,” Rumley explains, “such as buying other siblings out or putting the property in a trust.”

Farming land held as heirs’ property is difficult.

Lending agencies will not use heirs’ property as collateral for purposes of issuing financing because the title is considered “clouded.” Without such financing options, investments in farm operations, such as purchasing new land or more equipment, may not be feasible.

Additionally, until passage of the 2018 farm bill, there had been no way for heirs’ property owners to get a farm number, which is necessary to secure federal crop insurance and lending.

That 2018 update was critical, Rep. Dievendorf says. Now, heirs’ property owners can get a farm number, and it is easier if they farm in a state that has adopted the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. It’s one of the reasons Dievendorf is pushing for the passage of HB 4924 in Michigan.

Still, complications remain for heirs. As a result, those who want to farm may be pushed out of the industry, forced to sell, or rent the land rather than farm it themselves.

‘For future generations’

Of all the reasons for introducing the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, Dievendorf says, the most compelling to her was the nation’s history of stripping property from generations of Black and Indigenous Americans, partly through the use of inheritance laws.

Graphic from the Center for Agriculture & Food Systems

Between the end of slavery and 1910, African American farmers acquired 16 million acres of land. Over the next 100 years, their land ownership fell to less than 3 million acres. David Dietric, as co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, described the ramifications of heirs’ property law as “the worst problem you never heard of.”

Mavis Gragg, a leading expert on heirs’ property, explains that for many years, African American farmers “intentionally would pass ownership through intestate succession” and “forgo having wills that you have to file with the county clerk.” That’s because it was safer if ownership was obscured.

Heirs’ property has impacted Indigenous land ownership as well.

The 1887 Dawes Act permitted the allotment of Native American reservations. Individual members were allowed to own individual parcels, but they were subject to state inheritance laws. Because Native Americans were not legally permitted to use wills to transfer land until 1910, a significant amount of these allotments became heirs’ property.

Fast-forward to today, and legislators such as Dievendorf are looking for a way to ensure future generations don’t unfairly lose their land or wealth.

“[I]t closes a loophole that absolutely should not have existed,” says Dievendorf, adding that by making a change in the law, a state can show “that property equity is not just for the present generation, but for future generations.”

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The Opioid Crisis: Understanding and Addressing the Public Health Emergency

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the CSG South region. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2019 to 2020, opioid-involved death rates increased by 38 percent. While there have been efforts around the prescription and legal side of opioids, fentanyl, and its derivatives are causing even further harm to communities. Due to its potency and the ease with which it is synthesized, fentanyl is becoming more prevalent. It is increasingly mixed with other substances, often to deadly effect. From 2019 to 2020, the CDC found that synthetic opioid-involved death rates increased by 56 percent.  

Southern state legislators and staff convened in Kansas City, Missouri for the “Opioid Crisis” Masterclass. 22 Legislators, executive appointees, and staff from ten  CSG South member states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri,  North Carolina, Oklahoma,  South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia – participated in the class. Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe and 2023-2023 SLC Chair Craig Blair, Senate President and Lieutenant Governor of West Virginia, provided pre-recorded opening remarks. 

Experts came from: 

  • Aware Recovery Care 
  • KC Care Health Center 
  • Kent Strategic Advisors 
  • Missouri Association of Treatment Court Professionals 
  • Pew Charitable Trusts 
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 
  • University Health 
  • University of Missouri-Kansas City 
  • Washington University in St. Louis 

Participants learned how opioids work and their use in the medical field, the science behind the chronic disease of addiction, and the roots of the current epidemic dating back more than 100 years. They also learned about the personal experiences of individuals with substance use disorders as well as the experiences of those around them. Participants received briefings on current treatment approaches and best practices available to individuals seeking assistance. Participants learned about harm reduction approaches to minimize adverse impacts to the user as well as public health issues like mitigating the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Finally, participants explored opportunities for collaboration between state and federal governments, as well as criminal justice interventions available to support individuals through their substance use disorder. 


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