Food prices, ag economy tied to proper labor reform

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An approach to agricultural labor reform that focuses solely on immigration enforcement would raise food prices over five years by an additional 5 percent to 6 percent and would cut the nation’s food and fiber production by as much as a staggering $60 billion.

Those are among the results of a report, “Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform,” conducted by World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services. The report was commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation and released in conjunction with the #ifarmimmigration grassroots campaign, a month-long campaign sponsored by AFBF and the Partnership for a New American Economy to promote the need for agricultural immigration reform.

By far, the best scenario for farm labor reform both for consumers and farmers is one that includes immigration enforcement, a redesigned guest worker program and the opportunity for skilled laborers currently working in agriculture to earn an adjustment of status. Under that scenario, there would be little to no effect on food prices, and the impact on farm income would be less than 1 percent.

Today, U.S. agriculture depends heavily on falsely documented or undocumented workers and regardless of the reform scenario studied, it is clear that a legal workforce comes at a price.

“Status quo is not a viable option for anyone involved in this issue, and as a nation, we expect better,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Farmers and ranchers recognize there are costs to ensuring they have a legal, stable workforce. And we are willing to step up to the plate.”

The hardest-hit domestic food sectors under an enforcement-only scenario are fruit production, which would plummet by 30-61 percent, and vegetable production, which would decline by 15-31 percent. The study also pointed out that while many consider fruit and vegetable production the most labor-reliant sector, livestock production in the U.S. would fall by 13-27 percent.

“Over five years, an enforcement-only approach would lead to losses in farm income large enough to trigger large scale restructuring of the sector, higher food prices, and greater dependence on imported products.” Stallman said.

“With a reworked guest worker program, and by allowing skilled laborers to earn an adjustment of status, food prices remain stable and there are only marginal impacts on production,” Stallman said. “It’s clear that we need greater enforcement, but those two key reforms must be included in the process.

“Most Americans believe that they have outgrown farm work, which is reflected in their unwillingness to take farm jobs, even temporarily,” said Stallman. “The bottom line of this study is that we either import our labor or we import our food.”

The study compared changes in farm output, commodity prices, farm income, farm asset values, and food prices across four generic reform alternatives. The study is posted at:

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February, 10, 2014 at 04:34 PM

No Amnesty and no legalization of illegal aliens living in the United States. Ranchers and Farmers should be ashamed of themselves for hiring these criminals. All these liberal lies about reductions in food production are meant to bully the Government. Its time for higher pay and benefits and more automation out in the fields and all illegal aliens should be deported.

February, 10, 2014 at 07:32 PM

Ignorant, how long do you think it will take to automate those processes, if possible. You should be ashamed of being so ignorant. Weren't you guys complaining that illegals are taking your jobs, well what are you waiting for? There's a lot of demand for agricultural jobs.

Texas  |  February, 10, 2014 at 11:31 PM

HOGWASH Stallman! YOU are selling out the American middle class with a list of false choices and fear-mongering screed meant to further the profitability of a very few, very large ag entities, who dump responsibility for their workforce welfare onto the American taxpaying public via social services, local charities et.c., effectively forcing subsidization of profitable, labor intensive operators, who demand a constant supply of fresh, eager, compliant workers. This study is devoid of pure common sense, and reveals a lack of willingness of labor intensive ag operators, who are a small minority, to adapt their management practices and adjust their business models for smaller profits.

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