Why farmers see fertile ground on immigration reform

June 23, 2014 

US NEWS IMMIGRATION 3 MCT

The nation’s farmers need immigration reform in order to attract workers to harvest their crops. Here, a migrant worker carries strawberries at a North Carolina farm.

DAVIS TURNER — MCT

We are farmers who raise different types of crops in different regions of our country. Like all farmers, we have lived through difficult periods when bad weather, low prices or weak demand had us doubting we would survive. Whether organic or conventional producers, we all seek the same result – a good harvest and robust markets for our crops.

We accept the unpredictability of weather and market demand; and we – like good business people – invest in new technologies such as water systems, mechanization and improved seeds to bring as much stability as possible to our operations. Ironically, at just the time when demand is increasing, we are hamstrung by something over which we really should have more control – our nation’s labor supply.

Our current immigration system is widely considered broken and a drag on our country’s economic growth. Only in America, the “land of plenty,” do you see unharvested crops spoil in the field due to a shortage of labor. To a farmer, this is the worst kind of waste to bear. An unwillingness to consider any type of reform measure when the problem is so well known is irresponsible. You would expect that complaints and calls for reform from groups as diverse as farmers, high-tech companies, law enforcement and religious leaders would trigger action. Yet, a year after the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform, chances for the House to act this year look murky at best. Our current situation is an embarrassment and failing to act hurts everyone.

Failure to act hurts farmworkers: Skilled farmworkers deserve an opportunity to earn their way to a better future without the threat of deportation. Surely, our Congress can come to an agreement on a market-based and flexible program that provides for a legal workforce into the future and an adjustment for current hardworking and experienced, yet unauthorized, agricultural workers. Polling across the political spectrum has consistently revealed widespread support for allowing undocumented immigrants to live and work legally in the United States.

Failure to act hurts farmers and ranchers: Without enough workers, farms and ranches are gradually shrinking, and as a result, farm production is moving overseas. A 2012 survey by the California Farm Bureau in that state alone found that 71 percent of tree fruit growers and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers could not find enough workers for their production needs. Vegetable farmers have scaled back operations and more than 80,000 acres of fresh produce once grown in California has moved to other countries. This has grown to a nationwide issue affecting practically every state and includes fruit and vegetable producers, sheep ranchers, dairy and hog producers, large farmers that grow commodity grains and small farmers who need seasonal labor to offer their products at the local farmers market.

Failure to act hurts our economy: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate immigration reform bill will increase real GDP relative to current law projections by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033 – an increase of roughly $700 billion in 2023 and $1.4 trillion in 2033 in today’s dollars. Former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin suggests that real GDP growth could rise from 3 percent to 3.9 percent on average annually over the first 10 post-reform years, reducing the budget deficit by nearly $3 trillion. While estimates differ, well-crafted immigration reform legislation will clearly have a positive impact on our economy.

Failure to act is untenable for our future as a nation: In the next 20 years, 79 million baby-boomer generation Americans will leave the workforce to be replaced by fewer than 50 million GenXers and Millennials. We simply cannot sustain economic growth, meet our workforce needs or protect Social Security and Medicare without addressing immigration reform now.


AGree was launched three years ago to identify and respond to the challenges facing global agriculture. Our advisers include conventional and organic producers, ranchers, nutritionists, energy experts, conservationists and environmentalists, international development practitioners, and public health experts. Immigration reform was the first issue on which this very diverse group reached consensus, and we believe our principles serve the interests of producers, workers and the public.

•  Develop a practical and economically viable program that allows employers to hire legal foreign workers and protects foreign and U.S. farm workers

• Ensure quality of life, good working conditions, and opportunities for food and agriculture workers

• Provide more opportunities for farm workers to develop skills and advance their careers within the food and agriculture sector

The vital role of U.S. agriculture is widely ignored when our stomachs are full and abundance surrounds us. But the steady deterioration and vulnerability of our on farm workforce due to an unworkable immigration policy is putting our national food system and its economic and health benefits at risk … and in some cases in collapse. We need political leadership on immigration reform now.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Jim Moseley is a co-chair of AGree. He is an Indiana farmer and served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. A.G. Kawamura is an AGree adviser, a fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, Calif. He served as California secretary of agriculture from 2003 to 2010.

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