Agriculture Can Survive Without Illegals

More Misinformation from the Media:

President Donald Trump’s hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has sent a chill through the nation’s agricultural industry. . . . Immigrants working illegally in this country accounted for about 46 percent of America’s roughly 800,000 crop workers in recent years. . . . The American Farm Bureau Federation say strict immigration enforcement would raise food prices 5 to 6 percent because of a drop in supply and because the higher costs farmers could face. . . . [Agricultural employers] say that U.S.-born workers have little interest in [farm labor]. . . . While lobbying for visa and immigration reforms, agricultural workers are also looking into contingency plans such as mechanization or a switch to less labor-intensive crops. – Farmers Fear Losing immigrant Workers Under Trump Crackdown, The Washington Post, Andrew Selsky/AP. [link here]

Fact Check: This article, like many of its kind, gives the impression that our agriculture would collapse if it were not for illegal aliens. Actually, illegal aliens are not much involved in the leading crops of the U.S. farm economy, wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, alfalfa/hay, and sorghum. Production of these crops is largely automated.

Other crops, however, still require significant manual labor, and many illegal aliens are involved in their production. Examples are apples, oranges, grapes, tomatoes, cherries, and avocados. But does this mean that illegal immigration is the only way we can ensure that they are grown and harvested? Are there any other options? Articles like this one mention such possibilities, but then try to claim that they are not feasible.

One is for farmers to raise the wages of their workers so that more U.S. residents would be willing to do them. The standard reply is that hardly anyone in the U.S. will do this work, even for higher pay and even if they did, that would drive up our food prices.

It is true that agricultural work is not something a lot of U.S. residents like to do, but to say that none will is an overstatement. After all, as this article concedes, the majority of current crop workers (54 percent) are either native-born Americans or legal immigrants. If illegal aliens were mostly eliminated, as the article notes, food prices would go up around 6 percent. But that is just temporary. In the long run, according to an Iowa State estimate, the increase would only be three percent.

That would not be a bad deal, given the overall costs of illegal immigration. Many believe that most illegal aliens are farm workers. But that is far from true, as only about five percent of them are. In reality, most don’t like the demands of farm work much more than natives. Commonly they move on from agriculture to other work in the U.S. When they leave the fields, this creates an employment vacuum which entices another surge of illegal entrants.

It’s time to break this cycle. If we can’t find enough U.S. residents to do existing farm jobs, there are still other options. Two are mentioned in passing at the end of the Post’s article. One is farmers simply switching to less labor-intensive corps. The other is mechanization. Labor-saving farm technology has made great advances in recent years. What significantly holds it back is continued reliance on illegal alien labor.

Until mechanization reaches its full potential, farmers can rely on existing guest workers programs to bring in laborers legally. Many farmers claim that the programs are too encumbered with red tape. If that is the case, they might lobby to make them easier to use.

Without a doubt there are better ways to produce and harvest crops than allowing wholesale violation of our immigration laws. But you would never know it by reading the common take on this subject in the corporate media.



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