Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Era of cheap farm labor from Mexico ending, experts say, so immigration bill may not help farmers much

Looser immigration laws to allow more farm workers to legally stay longer in the U.S. may not help farmers find more workers in the near future, Brad Plumer of The Washington Post reports. U.S. farms could experience a shortage of low-cost labor because Mexico is getting richer and won't be able to supply as many rural farm workers in coming year, according to a study by University of California and El Colegio de Mexico. Plumer writes. (Getty Images photo by John Moore)

Farmers have relied on low-wage immigrant workers for decades, mainly those from Mexico. Seventy-seven percent of all farm workers in the country in 2006 were foreign-born. Cheap labor has helped keep food costs down, but the Mexican labor pool is "drying up," Plumer reports. The study, "The End of Farm Labor Abundance," says Mexico is getting richer, and when a country gets richer its level of agricultural labor shrinks. "Not only are Mexican workers shifting into other sectors like construction, but Mexico's own farms are increasing wages," Plumer writes. "That means U.S. farms will have to pay higher and higher wages to attract a dwindling pool of available Mexican farm workers."

The era of cheap labor from Mexico is coming to and end, study co-author Edward Taylor told Plumer. This will leave the U.S. facing a sharp adjustment, Plumer writes, especially since Americans seem unwilling to do farm work. Either American farmers stop growing crops that require a lot of workers to harvest, which Plumer writes seems unlikely, or they could make more investment in labor-saving technology. (Read more)

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