The American Farm Bureau Federation and the North Carolina Growers Association have filed suit to stop implementation of a final rule for the H-2A program.

That final rule goes into effect March 15 and introduces changes that farm labor advocates could make wages in some regions as much as $2 per hour higher for guest workers.

The groups filed suit in federal court in Greensboro, N.C., requesting a temporary restraining order to stop implementation of the new H-2A rules, said Stan Eury, executive director of the Vass-based North Carolina Growers Association in a March 15 e-mail.

“Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis once again violated the Administrative Procedures Act, Congressional Review Act and Regulatory Flexibility Act in an effort to shortcut the normal process for rule making,” Eury said, adding that a court hearing is expected on the suit within a few days.

“The suit alleges that the department didn’t’ sufficiently (complete) the regulatory flexibility analysis and try to minimize the effect on small business,” said Ron Gaskill, labor specialist with the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation.

Small businesses — defined as $750,000 in annual gross income or less — make up about 95% of the companies that participate in the H-2A program, Gaskill said.

The Department of Labor said in its rule making that the regulation would only affect 1.2% of all agricultural small business.

However, Gaskill said the department should have considered the composition of the firms that participate in the program, not the entire universe of agricultural companies.

“Our numbers estimate that we’re talking about a rule that just in the cost alone will cut into 25% to 40% of net farm income in those small businesses,” he said.

The result will be displacement and loss of growers, he said.

“Small businesses are going to find their way out of those kinds of labor intensive agriculture,” he said.

Another message from both groups, Gaskill said, is that agriculture faces serious labor issues that must be fixed.

“We’ve got to have a congressional fix,” he said. “This is something that has got to be solved and solved soon,” he said.

Farm Bureau believes AgJobs in its current form is not the answer but could be acceptable with some changes, including a provision for year-round agricultural labor and a wage rate formula different from the one now in place.

“Given all the tests that domestic employers must go through to find domestic workers before you can be certified to hire foreign workers, paying an adverse effect wage rate does not make sense,” Gaskill said.