Nursery owner talks with Trump about ag’s labor needs

Over the years Tom Demaline has seen his share of bureaucratic red tape with the government’s H-2A guest worker program. As president of Willoway Nurseries Inc. in Avon, he relies on a legal immigrant workforce.

The Lorain County Farm Bureau member shared his 18 years of experience with the program when he met with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in the White House. Demaline and 13 other representatives from the agriculture industry participated in an hour-long roundtable at the request of Trump who wanted to hear firsthand what issues agriculture was concerned with and how his administration could help.

“This is the first time a president has had a roundtable meeting with farmers since the Reagan administration. Farm Bureau had a presence in putting this together,” said Demaline who is incoming chairman of the board of AmericanHort based in Columbus.

The night before the meeting, Demaline, two White House staff members and representatives from other agriculture groups met at American Farm Bureau’s office to prepare for the roundtable. They identified four critical areas to discuss: labor, trade, regulatory issues and rural infrastructure.

“Labor was the No. 1 issue and we wanted to make sure we had a good conversation on this … that the guest worker program is broken and has issues and needs to be overhauled to make it user friendly,” Demaline said. “It works in con- cept but does not work in practicality. We need to streamline massive inefficiencies.”

Demaline said that during the roundtable, Trump was actively engaged and told Perdue to look into specific issues.

“It was an active two-way conversation by President Trump. By his responses, you knew he was truly engaged in the process and not just there giving lip service and saying ‘Write your congressman,’” he said.