Thursday, February 16, 2017

Who will harvest the crops?

Migrant farmworkers harvest strawberries near Oxnard, California. Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Two recent pieces discuss the probable agricultural effects of Trump’s proposed immigration and trade policies. 

“In the Central Valley, drought fears ease, but farmers contend with a new threat: Trump”

By Robin Abcarian for the Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2017 [sans embedded hyperlinks]

“It’s almost impossible to get a rise from my favorite farmer, Joe Del Bosque, who grows almonds, melons and asparagus here on the perpetually water-challenged west side of the San Joaquin Valley. After years of drought, suddenly everything is green. It’s raining like crazy, the infamous pumps of the Sacramento Delta are working overtime to fill reservoirs to the south and all over the state, dry fields have become muddy lakes.

‘So what are you Westside farmers whining about now?’ I asked Del Bosque when I visited him Monday in his office, a modest double-wide trailer on the edge of an almond orchard off Interstate 5. He chuckled. Farmers are always complaining about something. If they aren’t complaining, it’s because they’re too busy worrying. Del Bosque is, as usual, worried about water. But he’s also worried about immigration, and about President Trump’s vow to deport people who are here illegally. Del Bosque, and just about every grower he knows, depends on migrant labor for harvests.

‘We need a workforce,’ he said. ‘We can’t have immigration come here and round everyone up and deport them. Coupled with building a wall, it will ruin us. It will ruin the whole fruit and vegetable industry.’ [….] California agriculture simply cannot work without migrant labor. For example, the main towns around Del Bosque’s 2,000 acres — Dos Palos, Firebaugh, and Mendota — have a combined population of about 20,000, children included.

‘When I start harvesting my melons,’ Del Bosque said, ‘I need 300 people. And there’s like six other melon guys who need 300 people, and one probably needs 900. So we need around 3,000 people to harvest. Then, the tomato guys need people, the grape guys need people and the garlic guys need people. There are not enough people in these little towns for that seasonal surge in labor needs. That’s why we’re dependent on people who come from somewhere else.’

Like Mexico. [….] Mexican laborers, after all, put fresh fruit and vegetables on all of our tables. I wonder if President Trump even knows where his food comes from.” The full article is here.

*           *           * 

“Farmers Supported Trump — His Proposals Have Them Thinking Again”

Farmworkers, employers and trade groups are all concerned with Trump’s plans on immigration and trade.

By Joseph Erbentraut, The Huffington Post, 2/15/2017 [sans embedded hyperlinks] (Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food, water, agriculture and our climate.)

“When President Donald Trump was elected last fall, it was with an apparent majority of the nation’s farmers behind him. But now, three weeks since Trump’s inauguration, some of those farmers appear to be having second thoughts. Dairy farmers and fruit and vegetable growers, both of whom rely heavily on an immigrant workforce to harvest their goods, are expressing fears that Trump’s promise to up immigration enforcement and build a border wall with Mexico could eliminate much of its workforce.

Commodity farmers are also concerned that a 20-percent import tax on Mexican goods ― an idea the Trump administration has floated ― could hobble their businesses. Many agriculture industry groups are similarly dismayed by plans to jettison both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and North American Free Trade Agreement. Of course, the impact of these proposed actions won’t stop at the farm. If they are carried out, American eaters — as well as the environment — could bear that brunt as well. Here’s how: 

Higher Food Prices at the Grocery Store

If stepped-up immigration enforcement efforts target farmworkers, sectors of the farming industry that rely on immigrant workers will be affected the most. Between 50 and 70 percent of the nation’s farmworkers working for fresh produce growers and dairy farms are undocumented. If these sectors lose a significant amount of their existing immigrant workforce, they will need to raise wages to attract replacement workers and attracting them would be no easy task.

Farm groups have repeatedly emphasized that U.S.-born workers have shown little interest in the grueling work and the industry already says it’s facing a severe labor shortage due to the previous administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. As a result, farmworker wages have been rising with demand in recent years, though their pay still averages about $12 an hour.

Additional farm labor costs would likely be passed on to consumers. A 2015 report commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation and produced by Texas A&M University researchers found that a total loss of the industry’s immigrant workforce would result in a 90-percent surge in retail milk prices. Factoring in the current national average retail price of milk, that means a gallon of conventional milk would cost $5.42 and a gallon of organic milk would cost $9.38 under such a scenario. ‘We know that nobody wants to pay $8 for a gallon of milk and certainly nobody wants a food product like milk to come from foreign countries,’ Jaime Castaneda, NMPF senior vice president in strategic initiatives and trade policy, told The Huffington Post. ‘We need to find a balance here.’

Additional research has shown that a similar price increase, linked to reduced output, would likely happen with labor-intensive food products like fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. A 2012 report from U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers found that if 5.8 million undocumented farmworkers left the industry, the result would be less output, fewer exports and increased wages ― costs, again, to be passed on to consumers. Similarly, an analysis commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Foundation found that the exit of immigrant farmworkers could increase food prices by an average of 5 to 6 percent. Such increases could hit low-income households ― which already struggle to afford fresh fruits and vegetables ― particularly hard, especially if accompanied by rumored cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. [….] 

Increased Food Waste on Farms

A heightened farm labor crisis could also mean more crops left in the fields to rot, hurting farmers’ bottom lines in addition to releasing climate change-accelerating methane into the atmosphere. This is a concern for Joshua Morgenthau, owner and operator of Fishkill Farms, a small-scale farm and apple orchard located in Hopewell Junction, New York. Morgenthau regularly places job advertisements aimed at interested applicants of all backgrounds, including U.S.-born workers. But, like many farm employers, he says he rarely receives any responses. Domestic workers, he says, simply don’t appear to be willing to do this work. [….]

‘Crops will go unharvested because of the shortfall of qualified labor,’ Morgenthau told HuffPost. ‘Our food will rot in the fields and the price of local produce will skyrocket.’” [….] The full article is here. 

Recommended Reading:
  • Alamillo, José. Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Mexican American Labor and Leisure in a California Town, 1880-1960 (University of Illinois Press, 2006). 
  • Andrés, Benny J., Jr. Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900-1940 (Texas A&M University Press, 2015). 
  • Barajas, Frank P. Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961 (University of Nebraska Press, 2012). 
  • Bardacke, Frank. Trampling Out the Vintage: César Chávez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (Verso, 2011). 
  • Barger, W.K. and Ernesto M. Reza. The Farm Labor Movement in the Midwest: Social Change and Adaptation among Migrant Farmworkers (University of Texas Press, 1994). 
  • Barry, Brian and Robert E. Goodin, eds. Free Movement: Ethical issues in the transnational migration of people and of money (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992). 
  • Bishop, Charles E., ed. Farm Labor in the United States (Columbia University Press, 1967).  
  • Calavita, Kitty. Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. (Quid Pro Books, 2010 ed.).  
  • Cholewinski, Ryszard, Richard Perruchoud and Euan MacDonald, eds. International Migration Law: Developing Paradigms and Key Challenges (T.M.C. Asser Press, 2007). 
  • Daniel, Cletus E. Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941 (Cornell University Press, 1981).  
  • Day, Mark. Forty Acres: César Chávez and the Farm Workers (Praeger Publishers, 1971).  
  • De León, Jason. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (University of California Press, 2015). 
  • Fisher, Lloyd. The Harvest Labor Market in California (Harvard University Press, 1953).  
  • Flores, Lori A. Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement (Yale University Press, 2016).  
  • Friedland, William H., Amy E. Barton, and Robert J. Thomas. Manufacturing Green Gold: Capital, Labor, and Technology in the Lettuce Industry (Cambridge University Press, 1981).  
  • Galarza, Ernesto. Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story (McNally and Loftin, 1964).  
  • Galarza, Ernesto. Farm Workers and Agri-Business in California, 1947-60 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1977).  
  • Goldfarb, Ronald L. Migrant Farm Workers: A Caste of Despair (Iowa State University Press, 1981).  
  • González, Gilbert. Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Worker Villages in a Southern California County, 1900-1950 (University of Illinois Press, 1994).  
  • González, Gilbert. Guest Workers or Colonized Labor? Mexican Labor Immigration to the United States (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2013).  
  • Gonzales, Roberto G. Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (University of California Press, 2016). 
  • Griffith, David and Edward Kissam. Working Poor: Farmworkers in the United States (Temple University Press, 1995). 
  • Guchteneire, Paul de, Antoine Pecoud, and Ryszard Cholewinski, eds. Migration and Human Rights: The United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2009). 
  • Gutiérrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (University of California Press, 1995).  
  • Jenkins, J. Craig. The Politics of Insurgency: The Farm Worker Movement in the 1960s (Columbia University Press, 1985).  
  • Kapuy, Klaus. The Social Security Position of Irregular Migrant Workers: New Insights from National Social Security Law and International Law (Intersentia, 2011). 
  • Loza, Mireya. Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). 
  • Majka, Linda C. and Theo J. Majka. Farm Workers, Agribusiness, and the State (Temple University Press, 1982).  
  • Martin, Philip R. Promise Unfulfilled: Unions, Immigration, and the Farm Workers (Cornell University Press, 2003).  
  • Martin, Philip and David Martin. The Endless Quest: Helping America’s Farmworkers (Westview Press, 1994).  
  • McWilliams, Carey. Factories in the Fields: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California (University of California Press, 1939). 
  • Meister, Dick and Anne Loftis. A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers (Macmillan, 1977).  
  • Mitchell, Don. The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape (University of Minnesota Press, 1996).  
  • Mitchell, Don. They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (University of Georgia Press, 2012).  
  • Mooney, Patrick and Theo J. Majka. Farmers’ and Farmworkers’ Movements: Social Protest in American Agriculture (Twayne, 1995).  
  • Nahmias, Rick. The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers (University of New Mexico Press, 2008).  
  • Neuburger, Bruce. Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California (Monthly Review Press, 2013). 
  • Pawel, Miriam. The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (Bloomsbury Press, 2009). 
  • Rothenberg, Daniel. With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today (University of California Press, 1998).  
  • Sifuentez, Mario Jimenez. Of Forests and Fields: Mexican Labor in the Pacific Northwest (Rutgers University Press, 2016).  
  • Sosnick, Stephen H. Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States (McNally & Loftin, 1978).  
  • Thompson, Charles D., Jr. and Melinda F. Wiggins, eds. The Human Cost of Food: Farmworkers’ Lives, Labor, and Advocacy (University of Texas Press, 2002).  
  • Tsu, Cecilia M. Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture in California’s Santa Clara Valley (Oxford University Press, 2013).  
  • Valdes, Dionicio. Organized Agriculture and the Labor Movement Before the UFW: Puerto Rico, Hawai’i, and California (University of Texas Press, 2011).
  • Walker, Richard A. The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California (The New Press, 2004).
  • Watt, Alan J. Farm Workers and the Churches: The Movement in California and Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2010). 
  • Wells, Miriam J. Strawberry Fields: Politics, Class, and Work in California Agriculture (Cornell University Press, 1986). 


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