Monday, October 13, 2008

Immigration reform key to stabilizing farm labor, domestic fruit and vegetable production?

Ron Smith of the Southwest Farm Press says in an editorial that reform of the immigration system is vital if U.S. fruit and vegetable growers are to remain viable. Because the labor supply for these farmers is nearly entirely made up of foreign-born workers, many of whom are in the country illegally, it is difficult to maintain adequate labor force. "Of 1.6 million serious farm workers in the United States, 80 percent are foreign born, and of those 70 percent are unauthorized," Smith writes. Farms struggle to keep workers because of their tendency to move, either around the U.S. or back to their native countries.

Smith quotes Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform: "We need a system that allows a transition to permanent status." There is evidence of how devastating a labor shortage can be for the industry. Regelbrugge said, "In 2006, Northern California lost one-fourth of a pear crop. In 2007, Michigan lost $1 million worth of asparagus." These losses are pushing many to downsize their growing operations, forcing the U.S. to import a larger percentage of its fruits and vegetables. "A recent Texas survey indicated more than 75 percent of producer respondents indicated they would consider downsizing operations because of labor shortages," writes Smith. "More than one-fourth were moving production out of the United States. More than one-third were considering moving out of the country. And some shut down operations."

Proponents of immigration reform are supporting measures to create a more stable workforce by allowing more foreign workers to enter the U.S. legally. AgJOBS and Emergency Agriculture Relief Act are two examples of legislation intent on accomplishing that goal. Many groups, including labor unions, are opposed to guest worker programs. "Other challenges include 'an epidemic of state and local laws,' and a tendency to blame employers as 'the common denominator'," Smith writes. (Read more)

No comments: