July 20, 2009

Center to probe growing role of immigrants on state dairy farms

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The face of America’s Dairyland is changing, as growing numbers of immigrants run the milking parlors and feed the herds across Wisconsin.

Just this month, the UW-Madison Program on Agricultural Technology Studies released studies of immigrant labor, which now accounts for 40 percent of the dairy work force in Wisconsin.

Among other things, the studies conclude that immigration policies and enforcement “reinforce language barriers and limit immigrants’ abilities to pursue their claims and seek legal protections, thus contributing to inequalities in the workplace.” National estimates indicate that half of immigrant dairy workers lack immigration papers.

The state tax system continues to offer enticements to dairy farmers who modernize their facilities — which in turn leads to growth in herd sizes and compels dairy farmers to boost staffing levels at their expanded farms.

These sweeping changes within one of Wisconsin’s signature industries — and their impacts across the state — are the focus of a new collaborative reporting project of The Country Today, a statewide agricultural and rural newspaper, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit organization probing government integrity and quality of life issues.

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