SALT LAKE CITY -- Like all agriculture in the United States, the members of Dairy Producers of Utah association depend heavily on immigrant labor.
Therefore, the association's executive director, Mike Kohler, said it has supported efforts in the U.S. Congress for immigration reform.
"We're pushing to get something done," Kohler said. "We just need to get workers here."
At the state level, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has thrown its support behind the Utah Compact.
Department of Agriculture and Food Public Information Officer Larry Lewis said when state agriculture officials from around the country met in Utah in 2011, they agreed that the Utah Compact would be the best option for farmers.
"The migrant worker is the backbone of American agriculture," Lewis said.
Utah farmers join Christmas tree growers in the Appalachians to Wisconsin dairy farmers and producers of California's diverse abundance of fruits and vegetable to plead with Congress for an immigration bill that includes more lenient and less complex rules for hiring farm workers.
A measure that recently cleared the Democratic-led Senate contained provisions that the farm lobby said were promising. The Republican-controlled House is expected to take up the issue shortly. But with agriculture's once-mighty political influence in decline as its workforce has fallen to 2 percent of the population, it's uncertain how the industry will fare. Farmers' complaints about a shrinking labor pool are being overshadowed by the ideologically charged issues of border security and giving legal status to people in the country illegally.
Northern Michigan fruit grower, Pat McGuire, was among representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation who made their case on Capitol Hill last week. His Michigan group went to the offices of eight lawmakers and to the Senate floor, buttonholing members or their staffers.
For the self-described conservative who usually votes Republican, the most potent symbol of the immigration debate isn't grainy television footage showing people slipping furtively across the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead, it's plump red cherries and crisp apples rotting on the ground because there aren't enough workers to pick them -- a scenario that could become reality over the next couple of months.
Across the state's orchard belt, cherry trees already sag under the weight of bright-red clusters, yet many trailers and wood-frame cottages that should be bustling with migrant families stand empty. McGuire is waiting to hear whether crews will show up to pick his crop in mid-July.
"We're running out of time," he said, pulling aside leafy branches to inspect his ripening fruit on gently sloping hillsides a mile inland from Lake Michigan.
"Each office had their party speech," McGuire said, recalling one member's argument about border security. But the border must already be pretty secure, McGuire said, "because we don't have the labor in this country that we used to have."
Kohler said most of the jobs in his industry pay very well. The industry insists its chronic labor shortage isn't a matter of low pay, but too few American workers willing to take those jobs.
To meet that demand, Utah dairy producers would like to see at least three year permits, with a chance for renewal, for immigrants to be able to at least come back and forth legally. He said farmers need at least three years to get workers properly trained.
So far he has found most of Utah's congressional delegation to be receptive to the idea, but there has been some resistance.
"It's just trying to get through the political mess of Congress," Kohler said. "It's just so political that nothing gets done and it's dropped."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.