I know the topic of “immigration reform” can quickly get heated, however, I believe it’s important to fully understand how various immigration laws would impact the U.S. ag sector. Let me also say, I have no problem with immigrants, but believe they must follow all of the rules and regulations to come into our nation “LEGALLY”. Many of the findings discussed below are a result of a report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation and conducted by World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services fittingly called “Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform.” It was conducted in 2014 and was exploring then-President Obama’s immigration policies. The major findings of the report were if the powers in Washington focused solely on immigration enforcement food prices could end up rising by an additional +5% to +6%. Ultimately this scenario could cut the nation’s food and fiber production by as much as $60 billion. In other words, if we were to round up all of the illegal immigrants and deport them back to their country of origin it could send a significant shockwave through the ag sector. The U.S. ag industry has found it increasingly difficult to find people willing to do the physically demanding work required by jobs on farms and ranches. There are extensive studies that show most U.S. workers do not want these jobs, particularly those involving harvesting. So farmers have come to heavily rely on foreign workers who see economic opportunities in the farm laborer field. While farm workers run the gamut of being U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, seasonal laborers on special guest worker visas, or undocumented workers, most are affected by immigration status. To be clear, most immigrant farm workers are in the fields legally. According to the latest U.S. Labor Department’s most recent Farm Labor Survey, 53% of all farm workers had work authorization. Some of those workers participate in the H-2A program, though AFBF says it supplies less than 4% of the hired workers needed. What’s more, the program has become increasingly burdensome and littered with obstacles, with many farmers forced to hire lawyers to help them navigate the process. Under an immigration enforcement-focused policy, the hardest hit sectors would be fruit production, which could plummet by 30% to 60%, and vegetable production, which could decline by 15% to 30%. The AFBF study also pointed out that while many consider fruit and vegetable production the most labor-reliant sector, livestock production in the US could fall by 13% to 27%. Another study conducted by economists at Oklahoma State University and UC Davis shows that historically, the supply chain turns to imports to fill shortfalls. That means many U.S. producers would be facing stiffer completion. The best scenario, according to the AFBF study, 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 effect on food prices and the impact on farm income would be less than 1%. According to Bob Stallman, President of AFBF, said the bottom line of their study is that “we either import our labor or we import our food.” Though the AFBF report is from 2014, it still has relevant and interesting findings and compares changes in farm output, commodity prices, farm income, farm asset values, and food prices across four reform alternatives. You can see the study HERE. (Sources: AFBF, NAWS, NFWM)
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