Farmers Feel the Pinch of Dwindling Migrant Labor
Friday, July 06, 2012
(photo: Mark Bugnaski, Kalamazoo Gazette)
American farmers are losing billions of dollars a year because a shortage of farmworkers is resulting in crops spoiling in unpicked fields.
The estimated loss is between $5 billion and $9 billion annually, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The lack of available field hands is due to a crackdown on illegal immigration, as well as would-be immigrants remaining in Mexico to take advantage of better job opportunities. Experts also attribute the shortage of undocumented agricultural laborers to smugglers charging more money these days for people seeking to cross into the U.S. or forcing them to work certain jobs upon arrival before they are set free.
About 60% of all farmworkers are illegal immigrants.
In Georgia, where lawmakers adopted a tough anti-immigration law that has scared away many undocumented workers, only 7,000 pickers showed up for 12,000 available jobs during 2011. The result was $70 million in crop losses for farmers, according to a University of Georgia survey.
In California, the nation’s leading agricultural state, farmers are reporting labor shortages of 30% to 40%.
Small farmers have been hardest hit because they typically offer only a few days work at a time and pickers would rather stick with longer-term jobs.
Agricultural representatives in Washington have advocated for an overhaul of the government’s H-2A federal guest worker program, which allows visiting farmworkers to stay in the country and work toward legal immigration status.
The biggest problem with the H-2A program now is it functions too slowly for farmers. They say guest workers often arrive an average of 22 days after they’re needed to help harvest crops.
To Learn More:
Fewer Workers Cross Border, Creating U.S. Farm Labor Shortage (by Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers)
Georgia Farmers Blame Immigration Law for Labor Shortages Costing State $390 Million (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Georgia’s Harsh Immigration Law Leaves Crops Rotting in Fields (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Loss of Foreign Workers Would Damage Milk Supply in U.S. (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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