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Op-Ed: Immigration Reform is Necessary for Farmers and Ranchers

Terry Detrick

Why don’t they just get in line?

This is the question many ask when it comes to immigrants attempting to enter our country to work.  At this point, it is important we acknowledge that under our current immigration laws, it is simpler to come here illegally than legally.  We need immigrants to fill labor shortages, and immigrants want work.  A reformed guest worker program should encourage law abiding, taxpaying, industrious seasonal laborers to work through a period of intense labor needs, and then allow them to go back home to family. 

At present, there are seasonal opportunities for agricultural workers and other “less skilled” workers; however, this process is not streamlined and quite fastidious.  An employer must petition for the worker, and the worker must, in some cases, be able to provide proof of a certain level of income or education. The demand for workers who would like to immigrate to the Unites States is higher than the number of spots available each year, with significant labor shortages.  The result: backlogs for workers hoping to come to the United States legally.  The path to citizenship for some immigrants can take decades.

American Farmers and Ranchers currently serves over 130,000 Oklahoma members with grassroots chapters in 162 communities across the state. AFR’s immigration policy, as approved by its membership, reads as follows: “We support a documented guest worker program for immigrant laborers that results in these individuals paying taxes, obeying local, state and federal laws with the option of returning to their home country.  We support immigration laws that provide a system of identification, classification and taxation.  We support the development of new authorization documents that cannot be manipulated or duplicated.”

Each year, thousands of acres of America’s farmland goes unplanted and hundreds of millions of dollars of produce rots in the fields.  Our Oklahoma farmers are being robbed of opportunities to diversify and produce niche market, labor intensive crops.  Consequently, our economy, both rural and urban, suffers employment and revenue loss.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma currently ranks 23rd when it comes to farming revenue, this includes all agricultural and animal related products.

This is not just a problem in Oklahoma. Because U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable growers have not been able just to maintain the domestic market share they held from 1998-2000, imports of those food products have increased 80%.   Many of those products also are not produced under the same labor and production regulations that guarantee food safety equal to U.S. products.  Consequently, this country and individual communities have suffered a loss of jobs in packaging, transportation, food processing, retail and other sectors.  In other words, our current system is reducing the quality of product, along with taking farming and ranching jobs out of the U.S.

When it comes to immigration reform, American Farmers and Ranchers urges legislators and congress to immediately address this issue.  It is imperative to our nation that we move away from policies that hurt this country’s economy. 


Terry Detrick is a life-long, second-generation AFR member. He was first elected to the OFU Board of Directors in 1986, and served as Vice President from 1988 to 1992. After serving as president of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association and then the National Association of Wheat Growers, he returned to OFU in 1998 as Vice President and Director of Farm Programs. He was named AFR/OFU President in 2009.  

Detrick currently represents American Farmers & Ranchers and agriculture as president of the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation and chairman of the executive board of directors for the Oklahoma Agriculture Mediation Program. He serves on the board of directors of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association and is a member of the State Chamber of Oklahoma. He is a member of the OSU Dean of Agriculture Advisory Council, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Food & Agriculture Roundtable and the Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association.

A strong supporter of youth, Detrick has been awarded the Honorary Chapter, Honorary State and Honorary American FFA Degrees, the Agriculture Advocate Champion award from the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the FFA VIP of the year award, the highest honor Oklahoma FFA can bestow. 

Detrick is the managing agent of the Detrick Insurance Agency, which was founded by his father with the inception of OFU Insurance. He and his wife, Rita, are third-generation farmers. They proudly partner with their three sons, daughters in-law and eleven grandchildren to keep their insurance business and family farming tradition alive.