Push for Immigration Reform
March 21, 2014
A group pushing Congress for immigration reform says U.S. farmers don't have the labor force to meet consumer demand for fresh U.S. grown fruits and vegetables. That is according to a recent report commissioned by about 70 agriculture groups. The report's title hints at its conclusions: No Longer Home Grown - How Labor Shortages are Increasing America's Reliance on Imported Fresh Produce and Slowing U.S. Economic Growth.
The report shows the share of fresh fruits and vegetables imported and consumed by American families has grown by over 79 percent in recent years. It also shows that U.S. fresh produce demand and consumption have grown, but production hasn't.
Another finding from the report is that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) would have been $12.4 billion higher in 2012 if U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable growers had been able to maintain domestic market share. The report also states U.S. farmers are unable to maintain domestic market share because of the inadequacies of the H-2A visa program. Labor alone accounts for as much as $3.3 billion in missed GDP growth in 2012 and for $1.4 billion in farm income not realized in 2012.
According to Steve Osguthorpe, sheep producer and vice president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation (UFBF), when he started in the sheep business, he brought in herders from the Basque region of Spain. Later on, he brought in sheepherders from Peru. He said he has looked for local labor willing to do the work but, in the end, he needs to rely on immigrants to care for his animals.
"With the immigration laws that we have, it's getting harder to run an operation," Osguthorpe said.
Leland Hogan, president of UFBF, said improving the country's immigration laws will provide the nation's agriculture industry with a legal and dependable workforce.
"Immigration is important to us because we have fruit growers who need immigrant labor, we have sheepherders that need herding and dairy farmers that need milkers," Hogan said.
Osguthorpe said for his business, immigrants provide a reliable labor force that brings a necessary skill.
"In my view, the skilled worker is one that can herd and take care of sheep, but to someone else, it may be smart and do tech and all that."
Osguthorpe said Utah's farmers will continue to push immigration reform. For him, it is about securing his business so he has something to share with his children.
This report is part of the #iFarmImmigration campaign commissions by the Agriculture Workforce Coalition of which the American Sheep Industry Association is a member. The report is available at www.renewoureconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/no-longer-home-grown.pdf.