Bill to diversify Pennsylvania’s agricultural workforce makes rounds in the State House
State Representative Danilo Burgos’ bill would create a commission to expand workforce and economic opportunities for minority workers.
North Philadelphia State Rep. Danilo Burgos is steps closer to passing a bill seeking to diversify the agricultural workforce by installing a government commission. House Bill 767 was first introduced in late March by Burgos, wanting to level the playing field for minority workers in the agricultural sector.
Burgos, whose goal is to pinpoint standing inequities on Commonwealth farms, was driven by firsthand experience as a Dominican grocery store owner, “and seeing how difficult it is sometimes for…Hispanics and people of color to own land here in Pennsylvania,” he said in an interview in AL DÍA.
From capital resources to land access, the commission — should it be created — would examine challenges distinctive to minority workers in the rural workforce and tailor solutions addressing their needs. Burgos’ desired outcome is defined in the bill’s text “by incorporating the goal of eliminating disparities for socially disadvantaged groups.”
- Guided by their findings, the commission would explore recommendations around these areas:
- Education and career opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and disadvantaged groups.
- Grant awards and tax credit opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Capital access for disadvantaged farmers.
- Land access for socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Local government impacts on socially disadvantaged farmers.
- Diversity and inclusion training on farms, retail, food establishments, and the agriculture community, including fairs.
- Policies to improve agricultural education and career opportunities in economic justice areas.
Burgos’ dream commission would consult with experts, hold public hearings — whether virtual or onsite — review current policies, and propose either new legislation or regulatory changes to the state capitol.
“This bill would transform the playing field for many who are considering careers in the agricultural industry. I am determined to improve fairness in our agricultural production. We need to eliminate the alarming disparity that is affecting this industry,” Burgos said.
Hispanic and Latino farmers face logistical challenges.
In a 2020 study conducted by Pennsylvania State University, researchers found common themes creating difficulties for aspiring Hispanic farmers. Respondents to a survey tailored for the study said capital, access to operational resources, and marketing were selected frequently as barriers.
Even with the rise of migrant and Latino participation within the farming industry as its workforce wanes, the government is largely aware that it is not responsive to their growth. One report by the United States Department of Agriculture called for programs that are “culturally responsive” to Spanish-speaking audiences.
Educational resources are also slim, according to Penn State’s study. Despite increasing participation from Hispanics and Latinos in the farming industry, not enough educators fill the gaps to deliver outreach, saying “...there are only a few educators working with programming for Latino/a clientele, and thus they feel they have a lot of work to do and not enough time to complete it all.”
Penn State’s study noted that language wasn’t necessarily a significant impediment when engaging in direct contact with Spanish-speaking farmers, though it was nonetheless present among some interactions, respondents said in the survey.
PA’s own Department of Agriculture recognized these hurdles in 2020 and has since enacted efforts alongside the Department of Education to initiate a resource pipeline starting in schools, an initiative led by former Acting Secretary of Education, Eric Haggarty.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion principles were embedded into grant and apprenticeship opportunities to widen the workforce search. Workers, an Economic Impact Study found, contributed to the largest deficit. Burgos’s bill would expand, if not fuel targetted efforts to fill the Commonwealth's workforce shortage.
"Pennsylvania’s agriculture and food industry is ripe with opportunities. Those opportunities should be available to everyone. Period. The future prosperity of Pennsylvania agriculture and Pennsylvania’s economy depend on welcoming not only diverse ideas, technology, and production methods, but the diverse range of people who produce food and fiber, no matter where they live, where they came from, what their abilities are, who they love, or what they look like. Pennsylvania agriculture’s table has a seat for everyone and all are welcome," said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
No Republican support
Burgos’ bill made it safely out of committee and is now heading to the Senate, where it could undergo recommendations and amendments that could stall the timeline for a final vote in the House before reaching the Governor’s desk.
In committee, Burgos said, no Republican was guaranteed to support the bill.
“It is frustrating that in committee, none of the Republicans would vote for this bill. Every Republican that was present did not vote for this bill,” Burgos said.
Of his own delegation, Burgos said he is confident in a party-line vote. Yet it is less clear if the Republican-controlled Senate would be friendly to Burgos’s policy recommendations.
AL DÍA reached out to Rep. John Lawrence, who is Vice Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.