Kristi Noem’s kin are assuaging their consciences over breaking their dad’s principles and selling their land for a big factory dairy in part by swallowing Riverview Dairy’s suggestion that it will hire local labor to milk and manage its 12,500 cows. We all know that South Dakota’s CAFOs have to rely on immigrant labor to fill all those grueling jobs for which there are too few willing local workers. But Noem and her brother should know this, too. Their current dairy neighbors, Rodney and Dorothy Elliott, who were recruited by Joop Bollen himself to come to America on EB-5 visas and start Drumgoon Dairy just five miles south of Kristi and Bryon’s house on Highway 81 back in 2006, have never been able to find a local workforce and have employed almost no one but Hispanic immigrants.
That’s what the Elliots told Congress in 2007 when they testified against increased enforcement actions against employers of illegal immigrants and for issuing more temporary work visas:
Dear Committee Members:
We are dairy farmers who moved to Lake Norden, SD in February 2006 from Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. South Dakota has been recruiting dairy farmers from the United Kingdom, Ireland & Europe for a couple of years now and we decided to emigrate here in 2005 but took 6 months to complete U.S. Immigration through London (a much shorter process than any I have heard about here in the USA). We have invested millions of dollars in a brand new 1,400 cow dairy here in Hamlin County and have been milking since December 2006.
I am writing to urge you to take action on an issue I am very concerned about and that is essential to the smooth operation of my farm—immigrant labor. We currently employ 22 people, 15 of whom are Milkers and stall management operators. It is extremely difficult to find local workers willing to do the hard work required to operate a successful dairy farm. As a result, significant numbers of dairy farms of all sizes across this country rely on immigrant labor to help efficiently run their operations. I have tried to employ as many local people as possible but 8 hour milking shifts are not popular and because we milk three times a day we need three shifts of four staff to cover a 24/7 operation. Currently all our Milkers are Hispanics with Permanent Resident cards and Social Security Numbers.
The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security regarding increased enforcement actions is increasing the level of frustration and concern that I and my fellow dairy farmers feel at the government’s inability to tackle this important issue in a reasonable way. Many long-standing employees that dairy farmers have employed in good faith may well have to be let go in light of these efforts. When taking on new staff they must have two forms of identification and we keep a copy of these forms, however I do not feel that I have any special knowledge or skills that allow me to screen employee’s employment status. We are just so grateful to have people looking for work. We need a comprehensive solution to the challenge of immigration—not a one-sided attack focused solely on punitive enforcement policies.
That is why I strongly urge you to actively support the passage of the AgJOBS legislation. AgJOBS provides for a badly-needed temporary worker program for agriculture and an orderly transition that encourages experienced farm workers to remain working in agriculture for a period of years. Equally important for dairy farmers, such as me, it also includes a provision addressing the unique needs of dairy farmers for a stable workforce.
Please work with your fellow Members of Congress to enact AgJOBS without further delay. This carefully crafted compromise approach has been out there for some time now—it’s well past time for Congress to put it into law!
Rodney and Dorothy Elliott,
Drumgoon Dairy LP [testimony to U.S. House Agriculture Committee, 2007.10.04]
The Elliotts have since bolstered their immigrant workforce with robots. But neither the Noem kids nor many if any of their Hamlin County friends have flocked to Drumgoon to make their living milking cows and unplugging the manure lagoon culvert.
There’s nothing wrong with hiring workers from elsewhere to make up for the shortage of local workers. Along with automation, it’s the logical market response for dairy operators like the Elliotts. But their example, just down the road from the Noems’ house, should make clear to the land sellers and the rest of Hamlin County that Riverview’s stated preference to hire local workers is not realistic.